Monday 14 December 2015

Dear Santa

Image result for Santa
If it's not too much trouble, this Christmas I'd like an extra hand.

Not figuratively, mind you. I'm talking an actual hand, one with five nifty fingers that can tap away at my computer keyboard while my other two (the now-weary ones) get on with the business of holidaying with my family—you know, holding the kids' hands as we head off to the beach. Holding the tent up while the hubby hammers in the pegs. Dipping a finger in the saucepan while the other hand stirs the gravy.

You see, I'm in conflict mode again. 

You'll recognise this from last year. I'm really looking forward to taking some time off and enjoying the festive season with my long-suffering family. I want to be there for them, look forward to it in fact, yet I'm really, really keen to get some extra writing in.

The truth is, I'm itching to blank out the diary and get on with finishing the second installment of my popular Agatha Christie Book Club series. It's way overdue and my readers are getting antsy.

Yet I can't do it without a spare hand. Really I can't.

And in case you're wondering, I don't need another brain, so please don't waste your time on that. I mean, don't quote me on this or anything, but it doesn't take a lot of smarts to lie in a hammock and chill out with the kids. I've been cooking Christmas roasts for a decade so that's a cinch, and as for the hubby? As long as I smile vaguely and laugh at his jokes, he may not even notice.

But a missing hand will be a disaster. How will I properly wrap the pressies, stuff the turkey or hug my loved ones? How on earth do I explain that?

Nope, sorry, only one thing will do, and that's a whole other hand to stay behind in my office and continue with the book. It needn't be new, I'm really not fussy. In fact, now I think about it, it's preferable that it's second-hand. An older woman's would be ideal! One that's worked as a secretary long before the fancy schmancy title Personal Assistant was invented and delete buttons appeared on strange contraptions called computers.

There is no hand more efficient than an elderly secretary who got her chops on a rusty typewriter sans carbon paper and White Out.

But if you can't manage that, all I ask is that it has a pretty good word-per-tap count. That way I can leave it to get on with the business of typing my next novel, while I get back to the busyness of the holidays.

Is that too much to ask? 

I hope not, Santa. After all, not all of us have a team of trusty elves hanging around to do our handiwork.

Thanking you in advance and with much anticipation...

xo Christina
PS: Feel free to throw in a nose for a good story while you're at it.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Why more real readers must review (and the more real your review the better!)

There's been a lot of gossip lately about Amazon suing people who put false positive reviews on their website. And I don't blame them. Who needs to be spruiked while looking for a book? 

But its not just overly gushing, clearly fake favourable reviews they have to watch out for.

As a longtime mystery writer and member of various facebook writing groups—from best-selling cozy mystery writers to womens' author groups—one of the most common complaints I hear about is false unfavourble reviews.

And we're not talking about simple dissing of books.

It's one thing to say, "I read it, I didn't like it, here's why..."

It's quite another to blatantly lie about a book out of malice or to destroy a competitor. Luckily this hasn't really happened to me, but I know of countless fellow authors—clearly more successful than me, which is why they're being targeted—who have really struggled with it. One author of very successful, very benign cozy mysteries, complete with cute kitty cats, had a reviewer slam her book for all its "cursing and disgusting eroticism". She was mortfied.

There's not so much as a 'damn' or a revealed midriff anywhere in the text.

Desperate to have the false review removed lest it turn off her devoted fanbase, she approached Amazon and was initially told there was nothing they could do. Eventually, after much effort and enormous grief on her part, Amazon finally agreed to "review the review" — which means, they can post it back up if they decide it should stand.

Yet it contains total lies.

The worst that ever happened to me was a reviewer who wrote about how much she enjoyed one of my books and would have given it five stars, "if it wasn't for the missing pages". This was a few years ago and I was shocked. Had I stuffed up the formatting? I downloaded copies of the relevant book on every device I could get my hands on to see what she meant.

There were NO missing pages. All my books are complete. I then alerted Amazon and was told "she's entitled to her opinion". Yet this wasn't an 'opinion', this was incorrect and misleading information. I knew that it could put readers off because, let's face it, who wants to buy a book with 'missing pages'?

I tried to argue that this reviewer had her facts wrong, but they refused to enter into any more communication on this. And so the review stands. I wrote a comment under her review, debunking it, but there's little more I can do.

Looking back on it, I really can't say whether that reviewer was trying to be sneakily malicious or really did believe some pages were missing. Perhaps her download had glitched at the time? What I do know, however, is that some other reviewers are deliberately cruel. Luckily, I have never fallen foul of them, but many of my fellow writers have. And we have come to conclude that it can only be other authors who are doing this, other authors who are trying to sabotage the competition so they can sell more of their books. If not them, who?

Who would deliberately falsify a review? What would be the point?

Can people really be that nasty?

I dearly hope not, but this is my request of you, dear readers. If you can find a minute—and that's all it takes, I promise you—jot a quick review on Amazon each time you finish a book. It doesn't have to be my book; just whatever book you buy. Simply write a sentence or two about what you liked or didn't like and give it a star rating.

Please be sure to make it honest, and make it believeable, and it will not only pass muster with Amazon, but it will make a writer's day. And you will be doing fellow readers a service.

What you may not fully appreciate is that each genuine review you write, gives other potential readers a chance to really understand what the book is about, what it's like, what's to love and what's to loathe. Then they can go in, eyes wide open, armed with that information before they download that book.

Even better, the more genuine reviews that authors receive, the more books we tend to sell, the more money we make, the more chance we have of writing another one. After all, writers don't live on verbal praise alone. Pats on the back from our family and friends might make us feel good, but they don't pay the bills.

For those of you who have reviewed my books with true candour, I thank you from the bottom of my heart—whether you liked my book or not. Because, to me, that's not the real issue.

The real issue is: is the review real?

Happy reading (and reviewing) everyone.
xo Christina

Thursday 1 October 2015

Tip-toe through the skull caves

 I blame it all on the cannibal skulls.

My fixation with murder, mayhem and mystery must surely have been sparked the moment I first glimpsed those brittle, moudly heads perched below the rocky ledge in deepest, darkest Papua New Guinea.

I was seven or eight years of age. My whole family had clamboured through the thick, dangling foliage for a good hour, sweat flooding our bodies, mosquitoes hovering over uncovered flesh, the sun snapping at us between breaks in the canopy.

Finally, just when I was ready to play the Tired Child card, our local guide called out, "E stap!"

And there they were: 27 skulls of longdead locals. Cannibals, we were told, respected members of their clan. Why else would anyone bother to haul their heads all the way up to this hidden spot?

There was once a second skull cave, one that bore the heads of white missionaries. Or so the rumour went. The cave had only ever been sighted twice before mysteriously vanishing in the forest, never to been seen again. 

Had it caved in? 
Had the rainforest gobbled it up?
Or perhaps it never really existed, was a myth started to terrify the dim-dims*, to keep us up at night. 

The jury is still out on that one, but from the moment I heard about it, from the second I spotted those skulls, my imagination was awakened, my creativity alive. It's no wonder two of my mystery books have centred around cannibal skull caves— An Island Lost and A Plot To Die For (Ghostwriter Mystery 2). See below.

My journey to the caves

Born and bred in Papua New Guinea (PNG), I was used to local folklore and sinister superstitions. My family often travelled to the eastern tip of the country, to the stunning Milne Bay where we co-owned a deserted island called Doini, an unprofitable copra plantation that had long been deserted by the locals.

Like most of the country, this region is glowing with a colourful past. It is a land where the ancestors of real-life cannibals still live, where missionaries still visit despite being headhunted in numbers, and where witchdoctors are as common as GPs.

On the surface, Doini Island seems like any other idyllic tropical haven—glistening, crystal clear water, clapping palm fronds, friendly local villagers. But I had come to know it as a deeper, darker place, a land of honest-to-God mystery. And that creepy cannibal cave beckoned me each time we visited, never failing to inspire and impress.

And I have visited plenty.

I was just there, last week, on a reunion trip with my entire extended clan - 18 of us in fact. Doini is now an eco-resort, no longer the playground of a few lucky families, but its rough past remains, the cave still firmly settled in the middle of the forest, relatively untouched. Still beckoning visitors in.

And so I trudged there again last week, camera in hand, notebook at the ready. And while the path is so much easier today—thanks to longer legs and a tourist friendly track—the goose bumps still rippled across my body the second the skulls came into view. And I itched to tell another story based on those bones, reimagining their history once again.

If you haven't read my two novels that are set on fictionalised versions of Doini—and this blog has you intrigued—you can catch up with them at Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Nook and elsewhere:

An Island Lost is the story of a young woman's journey back to a tiny Pacific island where her father once disappeared. It tells of her journey from an organised life in New York city to the chaos of Papua New Guinea, and climaxes at the very spot where my imagination took hold—that extraordinary skull cave.

A Plot to Die For is the second adventure for Ghostwriter Roxy Parker who is invited to a boutique island resort to write the life story of an extrovert hotelier. When Roxy discovers the hotelier murdered, her head protruding from the sand in a ghastly local ritual, she must swallow her horror to uncover whodunit.

See the skulls firsthand

Or perhaps you want to discover the skull cave for yourself? I may elaborate on the journey in a future blog, but for now, check out Doini Island's website and start saving for your fare. It's no quick trip. From Australia, it requires two plane rides, a quick jaunt in the back of a truck, and a bumpy four-hour boat ride, but it's certainly worth the effort:

Otherwise, happy reading everyone, and may your life be filled with adventure and awe. Or, at the very least, a few sights that set your imagination on fire.

xo Christina

*dim-dim: a local Milne Bay nickname for white people

Wednesday 16 September 2015

An Island Found

I'm heading up to Papua New Guinea next week and wondering whether Roxy Parker will be joining me this time, or whether Vilia Lea mght be strapped in beside me on the rattling Cessna 182 instead.

My loyal readers will know exactly what I'm talking about and why I'm buzzing with excitement. Born and bred in the South Pacific nation, I have set two of my best-selling books up there, or thereabouts.

A Plot to Die For (Ghostwriter Mystery Book 2) was set on a fictional island called Dormay in a fabricated island nation, but really it's just a luxurious version of an island called Doini where I'll be travelling to next week.

Similarly, my stand-alone novel, An Island Lost, is set on an island called Tubu which is a more realistic version of Doini, a very real island where I spent idyllic childhood holidays, complete with cannibal skull caves (I kid you not), empty shell-smattered beaches, and folklore so vibrant, it quivers.

This time, my whole family will be travelling with me to Doini, which is no quick hop, skip and a jump. Situated on the safe eastern tip of PNG in the stunning Milne Bay, we first have to fly into Port Moresby, overnighting in the capital, before catching a light aircraft to the ramshackle town of Alotau. From there we hitch a long boat ride to the island, boxes of supplies in tow, including fresh milk and heavyduty SPF.

Doini Island is postcard perfect, we're talking azure water, white beaches, vibrant coral reef, but it's also so rich in colour and texture a postcard would do it no justice. It could fill endless novels, which brings me back to my opening question....

Who should accompany me?

Should I take my 'Ghostie' Roxy Parker back up there, and see what mischief she stumbles into this time? Last time, if you recall, she found her hotelier client dead, buried to the head in the soft white sand.

Or is it time for Vilia Lea, my 'little girl lost' who came to terms with her extraordinary family history in An Island Lost, to start a whole new chapter in a long-awaited sequel?

What do you think?

I'd love to hear from you, especially if you've read one or both of those books. Until then,  a warning dear friends: from Monday, I'll be silent for a few weeks—WiFi is sacrilege on a place like Doini—but I'll be madly scribbling in my journal and turning the experience into an adventure you're sure to enjoy in the not-too-distant future. I can't promise that Roxy and/or Vilia will be quite as happy about it!

Happy reading everyone, and happy adventuring if you can manage it.

xo Christina

Thursday 10 September 2015

The Mystery Event of the Year: Sept 12

Imagine having Agatha Christie, PD James, Sue Grafton and Harlan Coben all in the one place at the one time, ready to answer every question you ask and give away free or discounted books.

Heaven, right? (And slightly creepy as at least two of them would have to be spirited in!)

Well in just two days, a stack of Amazon's best-selling mystery and cozy mystery authors—including me—will be appearing on ONE Facebook page on ONE day, and we'll ALL be totally devoted to mystery book lovers like you.


It's going to be the Mystery Event of The Year, and it's open to absolutely everybody, you just have to click here: Mystery Writers Revealed.


This Saturday, September 12, from 10am - 7pm (US EDT), you'll get the chance to meet and greet a wide variety of mystery and cozy mystery writers, throw questions at them, lap up their discount books, and generally hobnob with the mystery literati.

Various mystery and cozy authors will be appearing at different times so check out the event schedule on that page, above.


Interested in connecting with me? I'll be logged in and switched on between 5pm and 6pm US EDT (on Saturday), which is 7am - 8am Australian EST time (on Sunday), so if you're up and keen to have a chat, I'd love to hear from you.

Not only that, I'll be sharing the digital podium with three of the mystery world's brightest and best-selling writers: • Morgana Best, • Stefania Mattana and • Dianne Harman.

We promise to make our session fun and lively, and would love to see as many of you interacting during that hour as possible. While you're there, you can download a FREE copy of my first Ghostwriter Mystery, KILLER TWIST or score a discounted copy of my latest Ghostwriter, A NOTE BEFORE DYING. Both books will be back to normal prices next week, so be sure to log in, click on and start chatting.

Morgana, Stafania and Dianne will also be discounting books:
• Morgana Best: Murder Most Fowl (A Sibyl Potts Cozy Mystery, Book 2):
• Stefania Mattana: Pull the Trigger: A Chase Williams Murder Mystery:
• Dianne Harman: Murder at the Cooking School: Cedar Bay Cozy Mystery Series:

So don't hesitate, don't be shy, just go to the Facebook Event page, log in and get involved. 

Happy posting everyone!
xo Christina

Sunday 6 September 2015

New season, fresh start

Are you bored with your old crime fiction series? Looking for something fresh and dynamic to read? I'm going back to the future this month and making my very first Ghostwriter Mystery Killer Twist absolutely FREE! It's a wonderful chance for newcomers to sample the series and for longtime readers to catch up on the story if they haven't read the first.

You can score your freebie via Smashwords and affiliates, Apple, Barnes & Noble's Nook, Kobo etc. If you're a Kindle kid, feel free to approach Amazon directly and they may price match.

So why am I giving away my hard work?

Spring fever

As half the world settles in for Autumn/Fall, it's warming up in Australia and turning out to be an exquisite Spring. What better time to discard old reading habits and try something new and fresh? The Ghostwriter Mystery series is a six-book series, each one a stand-alone mystery, starring murder-fixated, merlot-swilling ghostwriter Roxy Parker. She has a knack for sniffing out crime and a team of trusty accomplices to help her out. I think you'll love Roxy enough to invest in the next five stories... but at the very least, I know you'll enjoy joining her on this rollicking ride.

New cover

My loyal readers will know that I recently redesigned all my covers (see earlier blog) and will understand why. It's about reaching a wider audience, and letting people of all ages and genders know that the Ghostwriter Mystery Series is perfect for them. And if they're not sure? They can taste-test the first book for nought.

Generous me!

I've officially been self-publishing for four years and it's been a fantastic and fruitful ride. This is my gift to my many fans, readers, family and friends who supported me through my journey. If you have already read Killer Twist, THANK YOU! I couldn't have done it without your help. And if you haven't, here's my gift to you...

Just be sure to snap up your free copy fast. Like the seasons, this deal won't last for long.

Happy (free) reading, everyone.
xo Christina

Tuesday 1 September 2015

What authors did before Facebook (yes, Agatha, I'm looking at you)

There's one mystery that has always intrigued and infuriated mystery buffs in equal measure, and that is the real-life disappearance of the Queen of Mysteries herself, Agatha Christie, back in 1926. Until recently, however, I gave it very little thought, and certainly gave no credence to the cynical suggestion that it was all just a public relations exercise.
As if Dame Christie would be so crass!

Today, however, I'm beginning to wonder. As a mystery writer myself—and, yes, the comparison is a little cheeky, but humour me if you will—I am constantly looking for fresh and dynamic ways to market my books. I tweet and I blog and I sign up for mega Facebook events, but of course Ms Christie had no such tools at her disposal. She had some broadsheet newspapers and the odd book tour, although I'm yet to find any evidence she ever did one.

So did Ms Christie utilise her wicked intellect and ability to weave an engrossing mystery around herself instead?

If the astonishing true story is unfamiliar to you, allow me to quickly recap: On December 3, 1926, following an alleged marital tiff between Agatha and her philandering hubby Archie, the former disappeared, leaving an obscure letter and an abandoned car at an old quarry. We know now that Agatha quietly checked into a spa hotel in Harrogate under an assumed name (the same surname as Archie's mistress, just to thicken the plot) and remained there, unrecognised, for another ten days while half of England were out searching for her and the other half held their breath.
Lakes were drained, lofty rewards were offered, and an extraordinary 15,000 volunteers turned out to scour the countryside searching for clues a la Miss Marple. Even celebrity authors Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L Sayers got into the spirit. Then, on December 14, Aggie was finally discovered, still ensconced at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel, seemingly oblivious to the hysteria going on outside. She was promptly whisked away by her bemused looking husband who was no doubt wondering how long he could viably wait before losing her for good next time.*

Forget whodunit, to this day it has always been a classic whydunit? Why, oh why, did Agatha disappear?
The motives behind her vanishing are as complex as a Poirot novel. Was she suffering a case of amnesia as was conveniently suggested at the time (a pathetic plot device if ever there was one)? Was she in a stress-induced psychogenic trance, the latest new-fad theory? Was it revenge against Archie who was supposedly philandering with his mistress the weekend she vanished? Was it deep, dark depression or, as salaciously portrayed in a 1979 movie starring Vanessa Redgrave, a foiled suicide plot?
Or was it, as the cynics suggested and I am beginning to wonder, the greatest public relations stunt in literary history?

But... but... why?

We always think of Agatha Christie as breathtakingly successful—to date she's sold around 2 billion books, apparently, making her the highest-selling novelist in the history of the universe—but none of her 80-plus detective novels and countless celebrity-studded plays and films ever gained as much press as that one single act.
It may be largely forgotten today but back then Agatha's disappearance was a non-stop talking point. It was splashed across newspapers throughout the United Kingdom and even made the front page of The New York Times. Salman Rushdie had to attract a fatwa to get that kind of exposure, and Jeffrey Archer had to do some serious jail time.
I recall from my own research that Agatha was struggling with her latest (and least favorite) book, The Mystery of the Blue Train, at the time of her disappearance, uncharacteristic for someone who usually wrote at a Patterson-style pace. Perhaps she decided, as I am prone to do, to stop writing for a bit and start pouring her energy into promotion, a kind of writer's block remedy if you will. And what better way to promote your work than to pull a marketing stunt like that?!
While there was plenty of backlash after Ms Christie was discovered alive and in shockingly good health (a ghastlier ending was the least she could have provided), I can't help thinking of the old adage, about any publicity... You know how it goes.

Would Ms Christie really have gone to such lengths to throw a spotlight on her novels? Would any of us?

It's shocking how much publicity artists (pollies, businesses, celebrities, wannabes...) can drum up in a matter of minutes today, or how much scandal we can create with just 140 characters or a few strategically posed selfies (if only the Kardashians had something decent to say).
I'm taking part in an upcoming Facebook event with 40 other mystery writers from across the globe. We're answering questions, showcasing our books, and reaching a collective audience of more than 250,000 mystery readers--and all I have to do is sit at my keyboard for one measly hour.
Who needs to stage a week-long disappearance when you've got Facebook, Twitter and 24-hour news feeds? Yet of course Agatha Christie had none of that. Apart from the odd review in the local rag, very few punters even knew what the best-selling author looked like. It's no wonder she managed to hide in plain sight for so long.
Today, J.K. Rowling wouldn't get as far as the bus stop without being unmasked, filmed and splashed across YouTube.

So was Ms Christie's vanishing really just a PR stunt?

We don't know, of course we don't. Agatha never spoke of it publicly and made no mention of it in her autobiography, much to my chagrin. Sadly for the mystery boffins amongst us, Dame Christie's extraordinary mystery died with her.
Yet isn't that what makes it so extraordinary? Or, in the eyes of cynics like myself, a masterstroke of pure marketing genius?
Now, where could I disappear to I wonder...
Happy (mysterious) reading everyone!
xo Christina

*And in case you're wondering, Archie waited just long enough. The Christies were quietly divorced in 1928. The press were not invited.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

New look, same great stories...

Pop open the champers everyone! My new-look Ghostwriter Mystery Series is now online and available for sale at all good eretailers right around the globe, including Amazon, Apple, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. 

I do hope you love the fresh look and would appreciate some feedback if you have the time.

As I said in an earlier post, I've revamped all six ebook covers to spread the net wider and attract a larger readership (new covers pictured right and below). I do this not to dismiss the beautiful fanbase I already have—without you guys, I never would have got to book three, so thank you!—but I hope to appeal to those who may have swept past me in their online search for crime fiction, misunderstanding what my Ghostwriter books are all about, believing incorrectly, 'Oh that's not for me.'

Yes, they're fast-paced and fun to read.

No, they're not just for those under 30!

My 'Ghostie' Roxy Parker has a much wider appeal than that. And I know this because of the many people who write to me from around the world, complimenting my work and asking me to keep writing. These beloved fans come in all shapes and sizes, genders and age groups—from teenage girls to elderly men. It just doesn't matter.

What matters is the story behind the front cover, and I hope you find it intriguing enough now to take a second look. If you love a good mystery, an unpredictable plot, and characters who leap off the page and leave a small smile on your lips, then you won't be disappointed, I know you won't.

And if you've already read all six, then, again, thank you and let me know your thoughts.

Happy (more glamorous) reading everyone!

xo Christina

Wednesday 12 August 2015

Exclusive! Cover Redesign Reveal (ta-da!)

So there I was, proudly showcasing my novels at the recent Byron Bay Writers Festival when a middleaged woman wandered up to my table. She smiled widely at me then picked up one of my books and stared hard at the cover.

"So you write young adult fiction then?" she said, her smile still wide.

I blinked rapidly, "No, no, not at all!" I glanced down at the book in her hand, my latest A Note Before Dying. "That's an adult mystery. Part of my Ghostwriter Mystery series."

"Oh... right." She glanced back at the book, her bushy eyebrows crinkling together, looking a little flummoxed. "Riiight," she repeated.

"They're a bit of fun, though," I quickly added, sounding apologetic and not wanting to. "I mean, there's a good, complicated plot and everything, it's just that they're, fast-paced and easy to read. That's why I keep the covers so bright and fun-looking..."

My voice trailed off as she placed the book back down, her smile now waning, and wandered off to another writer's table.

In that moment I felt a heady flood of both embarrassment and indignation. These are adult novels, I thought angrily. I don't write for kids! I snatched up the book she had been holding and stared hard at it again. That's when the niggling little voice that had been whispering to me for the past 12 months, finally broke through.

"Ah, yes, Christina, but it looks like you do."

Growing pains

I've lived and breathed my Ghostwriter Mystery series since long before the first book, Killer Twist, was published in December 2011. Back then I was a novice writer and even greener self-publisher. I had a decent story, I had a few words of encouragement from my literary agent, and I needed a cover.

I turned to the only graphic designer I knew in the area, a good friend called Stuart Eadie. A musician as it happens, but also nifty with Photoshop.

We whipped a cover up together—me sourcing the pix, him dabbling with design, me getting him to dabble a bit harder—and eventually we had a pretty basic cover, but one that seemed to speak to me. One that said: fun! Fast-paced! Great read!

Since then Stu and I have whipped up another five covers together, all in the same vein.

But lately I've begun to feel that perhaps I've not only outgrown my bright, illustrative cover designs, perhaps they're now working against me.

That crinkled eye-browed woman was not the first to comment on the youthful look of my books. It's happened regularly ever since I began this process, yet I always chose to ignore it. It didn't matter, I kept thinking, they've just got it wrong. But now I've begun to see that 'they' are my potential readers, so why risk alienating them so easily? Getting readers is not as easy as I once believed. Sure, I've built up a loyal fanbase but what about all those people who have liked the sound of my story but been turned off or confused by my covers?

Yes, my books are bright and fun, but they're not exclusively for the young. My mother is amongst my biggest fans, so are many men, including an 84-year-old. But are my books the kind they want to be seen holding on the bus?

Do my covers embarrass them? And, by association, me?

Time for a change

I don't know the answer to that question and I know you should never apologise for your creations, but I also know it's time to broaden my reach. It's time for an update. It's time to show ALL potential readers that my stories are universal, they're ageless and they're appropriate.

If my covers are turning even one person off, then they are failing me, miserably.

And so I've redesigned all SIX of my Ghostwriter Mysteries. And I mean that literally. I've done it, myself, with the help of Photoshop. Because no one knows my books better than I do.

I've kept them bright and fun-looking, but I hope they don't look quite so young anymore. I think the new look will be as embraced by young readers as old. It certainly shouldn't turn anyone off. These covers show a certain maturity and development on both my part and on my maturing Ghostwriter, Roxy. They're safe but still enticing. Or at least I hope they are...

Some of you who have followed me for a while will know I began this process about six months back when I redesigned my first Ghostwriter Mystery, Killer Twist, more as an experiment than anything else. Sales didn't plummet, no angry emails arrived in my inbox.

So now I've brought all six books into line, they look part of a cohesive series, with a touch of the original style for long-time fans who seek me out.

This is my grand Cover Redesign Reveal!

I'll be uploading all the new covers over the next day or so onto Amazon, Apple et al. Before then I'd LOVE to know what you think. Do the new covers work for you? Are you affronted by it all? Disappointed by the change or delighted for me? Or could you care less?

Please get in touch pronto, otherwise happy reading everyone and look out for the new look on all ereaders and paperbacks soon, and on future books to come.

xo Christina


Sunday 9 August 2015

Is ANY book better than NO book when it comes to kids?

Nobody likes a smug parent, let's be frank. There's really nothing more blood-boiling than a 'back-seater' telling you how to raise your own, but I have to confess I came scarily close to morphing into one at a doctors' surgery one summer's day.
I was flicking through a trashy woman's magazine, waiting patiently for my GP to finish up with an old bloke and his worrying cough, when a man walked in with a boy who looked about 10 years of age.

After taking their seats across from me, the boy began to fidget, then twiddle his thumbs and glance about. Within minutes he was up and helping himself to one of many books that had been piled high on a bright red, plastic side table just for kids. I recognised the book instantly, it was Tootle by Gertrude Crampton, an oldie, but a cherished childhood favorite of mine. I gave him a wide smile, which he returned as he settled back into his seat.
Not so his dad.
"What're you reading that for?" the man grunted. The boy looked up from the bright, inviting pages towards his father's dark frown. "That's a baby book. You're too old for that crap."
The light in the boy's eyes instantly extinguished. He glanced at Tootle, almost as though hoping the rebellious locomotive might whisk him off into the wild meadows beyond, then shrugged, closed the book and put it back where he found it.
Then he sat down, empty-handed, and began fidgeting again. And so he remained for the next 20 minutes, doing nothing, reading nothing, staring blankly at the wall.
Never before have I wanted to cry out with such anguish as I did that balmy summer's day. Never have I felt so aggrieved for a child. I couldn't believe what I had heard.
Did a father really belittle his child for reading a book?
Okay, sure, it's a Little Golden Book, and maybe his son was capable of reading War and Peace, I don't know. And yes, the moral of the story is questionable—who cares if a little train goes off the rails from time to time?—but here's something I do know: reading anything, even a 'baby book' about an anarchic choo-choo, has to be better than reading nothing but the disappointment on your father's face.

What kind of a person does that?

Sure, it's not child abuse, not in the textbook sense, but in my book it comes pretty damn close. Books are not just a dreamy concept for chardonnay-swilling bleeding hearts or vested-interest authors like myself. Endless studies have proven that books of any kind help create smarter, happier, more socially competent human beings. A 20-year Nevada University study, for instance, found that no matter what a parent's background—rich, poor, illiterate or an Oxford graduate—those who have plenty of books in their house help boost their own child's education levels.*1

It's a fact.
Other research shows that reading to your child not only increases their brain activity, wordless picture books can enrich a toddler's language while all books can help children struggling with genuine social issues.*2
Boys in particular need an extra nudge, and I could bore you senseless with even more studies that show how far boys lag behind girls when it comes to books and reading, the gap only widening when the hormones kick in.*3
The haves and have nots
We tend to take literacy for granted in Western society and often waste time waxing lyrical about the 'right kind of book' for growing minds, yet reading of any kind can make an enormous difference to a young child. This stuff matters! A new Grattan Institute report from Australian teachers revealed that there can be as much as a six-year gap in any one classroom between students' educational levels.*4 Six years! That's staggering.
I know from my own experience, that when my eldest son started Kindergarten, his teacher, a veteran of 30 years, told me she can always spot the child who lives in a house without books. Not only were they behind on all literacy markers, some, she said, had no idea what to do with a book, which way the pages turned or what those funny scribbles were all about.
That breaks my heart, and not just because I'm a bleeding you-know-whatsie. Books aren't just educational bellwethers, they're bloody good fun! As a mother who grew weary under the piles of books my sons insisted we get through before lights out, it astounds me that some houses don't actually own one.
What do they do at bedtime? 
How do they soothe a crying child?
How do they entertain, terrify, intrigue and delight?

At my place, you'll find books scattered in every room, including the kitchen and toilet, as well as stacked high in the garage, floating about in both cars, and on every digital device, because, yes, books don't even need to be of the paper variety. If your child refuses to visit the library for some freebies, try downloading a bunch of ebooks onto his iPod. You'll find some for under a buck. Call into your local charity shop, ask the empty nester living down the road. At the very least, the local school should have some. It might take a little bit of effort, but the rewards are exponential.

Something to laugh at

Books don't need to be award-winning, they don't even need to be appropriate. According to another expert, this one in children's literature at the University of Illinois, comic books are just as sophisticated as other forms of literature in providing all the same benefits.*4 It's all about providing stories in which your child can live, learn and get lost.

So the next time your child opens a Batman comic, thumbs through a surf mag, or, heaven forbid, a 'baby book', don't discourage or criticise. Be thankful they're improving their brain, having fun, and becoming better members of society. Surely that's better than blasting someone's head off on PlayStation or twiddling the thumbs doing nothing?

Looking back

I never did pull that father up that day, but I did go home and make a solemn oath to the tiny little being that was nestled in my womb that summer. I swore I would offer him a wide and wonderful range of stories to read, and never complain when he chose something else entirely—even if that 'something else' was not to my liking. Then I sought out my tattered copy of Tootle and read aloud to him in the womb while his older brother nestled in happily beside us. But this time I left Tootle lolling in the meadow with his new mates. (No-one says you can't improvise!)

That unborn child is now my vivacious 11-year-old, roughly the same age as the boy in the surgery that day, and his favourite thing—off a soccer field, that is—is books. I cannot satiate his desire. His library card is chockers, his iPad overloaded, the school librarian is struggling to keep up.

Am I a smug mother? You bet I am, but I can't really take any of the credit. I give that to the likes of Gertrude Crampton and Tootle. Sure, the story's not perfect—I mean, come on, people, let the poor train play!—but who knew a steam engine with training wheels could be so powerful?

And as I watch my son get lost in the latest book of his choice (which these days centres around wimpy kids and psycho bums, it has to be said), I often wonder about the little boy in the surgery that day.

I dearly hope he managed to find his own pathway back to books before he became a father himself, with a loathing for books and a very tiny mind.

Happy, guilt-free, reading everyone!
xo Christina
*1: May 21, 2010 Source: University of Nevada, Reno
*2: April 25, 2015 Source: American Academy of Pediatrics
April 29, 2013 Source: University of Waterloo
August 12, 2013 Source: University of Cincinnati
*5: November 6, 2009 Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, according to a University of Illinois expert in children's literature

Monday 27 July 2015

My tribute to a True Crime trailblazer, Ann Rule

Hi guys,
I wrote this post last September, after belatedly discovering the tremendous True Crime author Ann Rule, author of more than 30 books. With news overnight that Ms Rule has passed away, aged 83, I think of her again and hope she can finally rest in peace...

The Queen of True Crime

I seem to have developed the True Crime bug, big time, and have found myself creeped out for days now reading The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (Pocket Books; reprint 2008).

This book is considered the blueprint for true crime, the bible for all true crime writers, and yet when Ann Rule wrote it she was a total novice. While she had once been a cop and had written extensively on crime for various detective magazines, she had never written a book before.

But that's not the stunning part about it.

What is truly incredible about this story—and why I guess it broke all the rules and became the template for both true crime and immersion writing—is that Rule had no idea, as she embarked on the book, that she not only knew the murderer, she was his friend.

Soon after being commissioned to write about a dreadful series of murders across America involving scores of beautiful young women who were brutally attacked, she came to realise that the leading suspect in the cases, indeed the only suspect, was a man she had befriended while working in a crisis centre. A man she genuinely liked!

It was, of course, the infamous Ted Bundy, a name that still sends shivers down women's spines 40 years later.

Bundy was a monster like no other. 
He confessed (albeit indirectly) to more than 35 murders, each one horrendously degrading, the kind that gives you nightmares. And Rule was on his speed dial.

Incredible stuff. Even more incredibly, Rule didn't hang up the phone and run (as I probably would). She didn't baulk at writing the book once Bundy was arrested, nor did she hesitate to remain in contact with that monster throughout his incarceration, taking his calls, returning his letters and even sending regular checks to help pay for his smokes in jail.

I don't believe she did that for the sake of the book. 
Not at all. It was not a marketing ploy. Judging from the book, she genuinely liked this man and wasn't afraid to admit it! She couldn't quite believe at first that he could do such monstrous things. When she finally had to accept this truth, she still felt a certan empathy for him which may seem bizarre to the average person, but which is very brave and honest of her to admit.

This book does what I think Virginia Peters tries to accomplish in her newly released Have You Seen Simone? (Penguin; 2014), see earlier blogs, yet fails at. This book takes us through the nitty gritty of a true crime (or 35 of them, and it's gruelling stuff!) while also showing us an incredible friendship and a first-hand insight into a murderer's mind.

She balances her friendship and the truth with such applomb. It really is an incredible feat and has been worth every jittery moment of reading it.

I have not enjoyed the book—how could anyone enjoy such horror?—but I did find it gripping, un-put-downable, and I was mesmerised by the words of an innocent writer caught in the middle. Unlike Peters, this really is as much about Rule as it is about Bundy. Yet we never feel that Rule believes that. She never takes over the story or makes it about herself. She is just there, stuck in the middle, and we are stuck right alongside her.

Tremendous stuff.

It's no wonder, as Rule says at the start of this reprint, people still contact her about the book all these decades later. She has gone on to write scores of other books, but this is the one that haunts all who come across it. And still haunts her.

Happy (less creepy!) reading everyone.
xo Christina