I HEART Chester!!

It was Valentine’s Day this week, and it’s cemented in my mind how one of the loves of my life is actually…. something that’s not even living! Well, not in the usual sense!

I first fell in love with Chester when I was in my late teens, having visited for the day  with my aunt. Walking under the archway of the magnificent Eastgate Clock, taking me from Foregate Street to Eastgate Street, a sudden shiver went down my spine.

I was home!!! 🙂

That was the bizarre yet joyous feeling I had, that somehow this city would play an important part of my life. And so it would come to pass…..

I wrote many of the first drafts of my debut crime novel No More Lonely Nights while living elsewhere. I relied on an A-Z street map purchased from Chester’s local tourist information office to find the best locations for the story: Rowlands Heights flats in Newtown where the body is found; Bridge Street for the jewellery robbery; a pub by the canal, the Blacon estate, the MP’s house in Upton and the old police station.

I finally moved to Chester in the summer of 1995, having completed my year-long journalism course, and started work immediately at the Chester Chronicle as a general reporter, as well as police, courts and health correspondent.

My love affair with my adopted home city continued over the years, as Chester played host to numerous important life events. It’s where I met my first girlfriend, where I met and married my wife, and where we got our first house, in Handbridge overlooking the River Dee.

We moved down to London in November 2009 for work and social reasons, and consider ourselves fully-fledged Londoners now, albeit Northerners in London!

However, we still have family in Chester and relish visiting them a couple of times a year as we get to see the old town once more. As former residents, we see the place with fresh eyes and can be very critical about new buildings, closed businesses, and other changes we don’t agree with.

But I wouldn’t miss these visits for the world. My three other books – Long & Winding Road, written while still living in Chester; Strider Begins: Road to Nowhere and Till The Fat Lady Sings, both written in London – are all set there. My main character, DS Dominic Strider, works for Chester CID. He’s Chester through-and-through!

As much as I love my new home in London, and it IS a fantastic city with a wealth of opportunity, Chester is and will remain my first love. Well, when we’re talking cities of course. Other types of love are a whole new topic in itself!!!!


My website

My Author’s Page on Amazon.com



Changing – not losing – the plot

I’m now a good third of the way through my fourth Detective Constable Dominic Strider novel ‘Till The Fat Lady Sings’… and it looks vastly different from how I’d planned it.

I always prepare a chapter structure beforehand to highlight the main plot points and where I think they should land. But they are not immovable or even unchangeable. Everything is up for grabs.

So once I started writing the novel itself, quite a lot of my original ideas changed; some quite drastically!

Chapter 1

Chapter 1 takes place at Chester Races. It originally had Strider chasing a thief across the finishing line, just as the horses came in. Bit like the first five minutes of a Bond film, it was an action scene that had no connection to the rest of the story.

But then it occurred to me that the Races are a fantastic location. It’d be a shame to just dismiss them so quickly.

So I slowly started working out how to stretch that storyline across the remainder of the novel. I can’t reveal too much, but now something sinister happens which spooks the horses during the race. Strider must work out what happened, why and who dunnit.

By its very nature, this means more – new – chapters to write.

After all, if a major public incident has occurred, the police need to take statements. There will be an incident room. Strider has to visit the stables to interview the jockeys. Dotting these extra elements around the book has been creatively satisfying, as I’ve now got an entirely new sub-plot. 🙂

Chester Cathedral

It’s also important to let the story breathe. This can only happen once you start writing.
I tend to go into a Zen-like state to open up the creative floodgates in my mind and let the ideas flow through my fingers into the computer. It’s vital to my process that I don’t stifle this creativity at all, nor put a straitjacket on the plot, characters and their actions.

The characters then tend to dictate where the story is going…. and this can have surprising results!

The main plot is about an opera singer coming to town, her involvement with stolen antiquities, and the disappearance of the Verger in Chester Cathedral. In my original chapter plan, the Verger went missing early on (Chapter 3). In Chapter 5 his body was found.

But as I was writing, it occurred to me that a) I needed to incorporate more mystery surrounding his disappearance, and b) we needed to know who reported him missing.

This led to an entirely new character and a scene in the Cathedral Cafe, which happens to be based in the atmospheric 13th century monks dining hall. That’s Chester for you – full to the brim with stunning real-life historic locations!

Another thing happened then….

The opera singer’s PA (who was originally only a peripheral character) also appeared much earlier than planned. She had a ‘meet cute’ with Strider and the two of them have now embarked on a fling. This took me by complete surprise – which sounds stupid as I’m the author!

But I have fully allowed the characters to dictate the pace and events of the plot. And it just seemed so natural, normal and interesting that Strider and the PA should get together as a couple.

An added bonus: when Strider finally does meet the opera singer and investigates the murder, he has a very personal stake in events. This also creates a love triangle – maybe even a quadrangle – later on in the story.

So the book is changing and evolving chapter by chapter, line by line, and I couldn’t be more excited! I just hope the characters let me know where it’ll all end up! 🙂



Times they are a changing…

One of the oddest things about setting your novels in a real-life city like Chester, is that the place is constantly changing and evolving. The question is: how do you catch-up with those changes? How do they affect your novels’ timeline? Or do you ignore them altogether?

When I wrote my first crime novel – No More Lonely Nights (available on Amazon Kindle now) – Chester was a fairly stable city. Nothing much was changing. The action took place in the city streets and suburbs. They will never change – and indeed haven’t. How could they?

But then came the second novel – Long & Winding Road (also available on Amazon Kindle). By the time of writing this, a fair few years after the first, Cheshire Constabulary had decided to move out of their seven-storey HQ in Nuns Road, opposite the magistrates’ court. They had a crazy idea that they didn’t want to be based in Chester, the county town of Cheshire, anymore. Instead they wanted to move to an industrial park in Winsford, the complete opposite side of the county. Bizarrely, the fire brigade made the same decision around the same time – and abandoned Chester for Winsford.

L&WR ends with my detective characters DC Dominic Strider and DI George ‘Slapper’ McKedrick telling the Chief Constable they didn’t like this move. Naturally they wouldn’t have been forced to move to Winsford too. But because Cheshire Police Station had been based on the ground and first floor at the HQ building, it meant there would have to be a new cop shop for Chester. This was eventually built on the Blacon estate on the edge of Chester. The police made this a divisional HQ, bringing together the different police areas of Chester and Ellesmere Port & Neston (at the base of the Wirral). Strider and Slapper didn’t want to be based there either.

So the police created a THIRD police station, by taking over some office space in Chester Town Hall. The argument was that Chester still needed a city centre police presence that the public could walk into and meet & speak to coppers face-to-face. Sounds sensible, right? To me, this is as integral to a front-facing police service as having bobbies on the beat. But the police nationally seem to be withdrawing more and more from public life and face-to-face contact these days…

Naturally, Strider and Slapper decided they wanted to be based in the police office in the Town Hall. And because they’d saved the Chief Constable’s daughter from the serial killer – read the novel, it’s all explained in there!! – they got their wish.

That all seemed fine with me. The second novel reflected local history. I was happy. But then came the problems with the third novel… and the fourth, which I’m currently writing….

You see, I decided that the first two books formed a perfect character arc for Strider, and I didn’t want to take his storyline any further from that point in his life. So for books three, four and more, I decided to reboot the series. Go back to the beginning. Let’s look at Strider’s cases from his early days, starting just before he becomes a detective. Plenty of scope for good stories there, and I have ample storylines in mind for them!

But here’s the rub: what the heck do I do about the police station and the disappearing HQ? You see, chronologically, go back to Strider’s roots and you go back to when the old Cheshire Constabulary HQ was still standing and operational in Nuns Road.

But for book three, I brought it up to the modern era, as I felt the story should remain contemporary. I gave Strider a smart phone, for example. He surfs the internet, he uses social media. None of these were particularly prevalent at the time I wrote the first novel.

So, I had to make a careful decision about the cop shop too: do I ignore local history and have him still based in the old Constabulary HQ, which would have looked weird to any Chester-based readers; or ignore what was written about the HQ in the old books and just have him based in the Town Hall police office (the current arrangement for the town’s coppers).

I opted for the latter and chose to conveniently ignore what had been written in the past.

My reasoning: it brings the new books up to date with what’s happened and is happening in Chester (even though they are set BEFORE the older books in time). It makes sense to new readers to just say where he is based and not explain it – they won’t want a history lesson.

And if the X-Men films and Bond films can mess with their own timelines, chronology and continuity (and seemingly get away with it), why can’t I??


Write what – and where – you know

My crime novels featuring Detective Constable Dominic Strider are set in Chester and, to a much lesser extent, Ellesmere Port.

I lived in Chester for 15 years – working as a general reporter on the Chester Chronicle for seven of those years, and the rest of time as Chief Reporter for the Ellesmere Port Pioneer. To say I am exceedingly familiar with both those towns is quite the understatement. 🙂

However, many moons ago when I was 15 and first had the idea for what would become my first DC Strider novel – No More Lonely Nights – I was living in the Midlands, where I grew up.

I’d visited Chester just once. I’d been staying with my auntie Shirley (again in the Midlands), and we used to drive out on day trips. One of those trips was to the medieval former Roman garrison, the city of Chester.

Waking underneath the Eastgate Clock, the world’s second most photographed timepiece after Big Ben – I shuddered. I had an innate, raw sensation in my body, an intuition that I belonged in this city. That I was home. And eventually that came to pass, as I moved there at the age of 23 (staying until I was 37 when I moved to London).

However, flash back to when I was 15 and visiting Chester for the first time. It struck me there and then that this gorgeous, historic city would be the perfect setting for DC Strider’s adventures. But I was a mere visitor for the day. What did I know of the city’s history, culture, social fabric, its people, its heart and soul? Nothing.

I bought a map and a local history book, and used both to intricately plot the opening chapters – Strider by the river, the suspected suicide at the Rowlands Heights flats in Newtown, by the station. Other locations sprang from the map and/or book. The Rows were the most obvious ones. These are two-storey shops on top of shops, with a wooden walkway in between.

Characters lived in the suburbs, initially chosen at random by me. It was only once I lived there for real, that I could decide once and for all the perfect locations for people to live and work. Amazingly I’d got it pretty much spot-on at the beginning. The MP lived in middle-class Upton, his secret street walking daughter lived on the council estate in Blacon. Strider lived in a posh house by the river, in The Groves.

It was far easier writing the follow-up book, Long & Winding Road, many years later. I sat in my study, in my house in the village of Handbridge near the City Walls and the River Dee, and wrote it from my own personal knowledge and experience. It was divine. I knew the local hospital, the river, the secret alleyways and streets, the parks, and the Town Hall where much of the action takes place. I’d been there, trodden those same pavements, played on the grass, explored the hidden nooks and crannies the city has to offer, worked in the hospital (I was the paper’s health correspondent) and covered numerous election nights and other events at the Town Hall.

Incidentally, Chester Town Hall was where I shot the first (of many planned) DC Strider short films! In January 2007 I spent two days filming the short ‘Strider Gets Iced’ there, and one further day filming in the now disused Gateway Theatre round the corner. In fact, I was one of the last people to ever work at that theatre before it was closed.

Now, I have a third DC Strider novel in the bag (and am seeking literary representation for it) – Strider Begins: Road to Nowhere. It starts off in the Cheshire countryside before flashing back to his early exploits, and basically takes place in two very well-known locations that are dear to me: Handbridge and the city streets themselves. It culminates in a deadly treasure hunt criss-crossing the city centre, and features a Roman centurion!

Which all leads me to Strider novel No4, Till the Fat Lady Sings, which I have just started writing recently. The opening chapter is all about Chester Races, a hitherto ignored location in my books. Strider is on patrol, watching out for pickpockets, but ruminating not just on the history of the ancient racecourse – one of the oldest in the entire world! – but also of having the privilege to see the races from a private box above the finishing line and having access to the paddocks in the centre of the course. Both are described from memory and experience, as I spent many happy summer days at the races, as a guest of Shell UK in their executive box, and exploring the racecourse and seeing the paddocks, the stables and more.

It’s this personal experience – of seeing your locations with your own eyes, of walking where your characters now walk, breathing the same air, hearing the sounds and seeing the sights that they will experience and describe – that really enriches my work beyond all measure. It gives my novels complete and utter authenticity.

Many Chester residents will know and love these locations too, and I hope for those who’ve never ventured to the city of Chester, the books inspire them to make that trip. It’s one of the ‘jewels in the crown’ of the North of England, and I hope my florid descriptions do it justice. So come along to Chester now, you’ll love it. It’s my kinda town! 🙂

Achieving the work-life-art balance

Everyone wants to achieve that perfect balance between work and home life. But for artists of any nature, there’s that additional element to fit into your hectic schedule.

How do you fit your artistry – be it novels, paintings, acting or singing – in with the demands of a full-time job, family, hobbies and relaxation?

I can’t claim to have the right answer – we all do whatever we can in our own particular circumstances. But for me, it is an ever-present challenge. So I’m going to share with you how it works for me.

Two weeks ago I took a fortnight’s Annual Leave from work. I actually have so much leave built up from over the past few years that it was literally made one of my work objectives this year to use it all up! True story!

So I took advantage of that time off, and the fact my wife and I aren’t going on a holiday this year, to spend lots of time at home, working on my novels.

I’ve already detailed in my previous blogs (see below) how I spent that last fortnight: putting my second book Long & Winding Road onto Kindle, promoting it judiciously and then starting writing my fourth book. So how’s it gone since then?

Well, er…..?? The fact that this, my third blog, comes a fortnight later probably says it all. Does it mean I’ve lost interest in my work? Of course not! But it does exemplify the difficulties I experience in holding down a full-time job; having a committed relationship (I’ve been married 17 years); having a rigorous health and exercise regime (I go to the gym three times a week and yoga every Thursday night); and needing that vital relaxation time too.

In 2016, when writing my third novel Strider Begins: Road to Nowhere – which I am still pitching in vain to literary agents – I decided to write one chapter virtually every night until it was done. It was a tremendous effort that left me exhausted, physically and mentally, but it got the book done within six weeks. I was in a particular rush to get it out of my brain, down onto the laptop, in order to start pitching it the agents. The idea was: if they ask for it, I have it to send instantly to them!

Thankfully, I don’t have that same rush right now for my fourth novel – Till the Fat Lady Sings – so I don’t have to destroy my health and relaxation time so much to get it done. But I still have to find that writing time somehow.

I started writing TTFLS earlier this month. I wrote the chapter plan beforehand and then, for the actual Chapter 1, I decamped to a local Costa Coffee and spent a very pleasant afternoon writing it up. The cafe was far less noisy and hectic than I’d first envisioned and afforded me a very relaxing, uninterrupted period in which to get my thoughts down and concentrate on DC Dominic Strider’s latest adventures. It ended with me writing most of the chapter, honing it and coming up with fresh ideas on the hoof. Chapter 1 takes place at the historic Chester Roodee Racecourse (hence the hoof pun!), and is a scene-setter which leads to a great, fun chase and fight.

Writing in Costa is something I’d love to replicate from time to time, but of course it’d mean having to either take my laptop to work, in order to have it ready for post-work 5pm; or taking the day or week off work again. So thank goodness I have more leave to take in September, October and November/December.

It does mean my writing will be more sporadic than last year, but on the other hand I’ll have several weeks here and there of uninterrupted writing. In this case, it actually works to my advantage because, while Road to Nowhere was fully formulated in my mind and merely needed transcribing, TTFLS is a bit more unplanned. I know where it’s going but only know 3/4 of the ‘how’ Strider arrives there. So it’ll give me much more time to think and plan, and see what fresh ideas pop into my mind to help propel the story along.

I still aim to get the book fully completed by this Christmas. But I promise you won’t have to wait that long for the next blog! 😀

Till next time, adios amigos and thank you everyone for all your support!! 🙂

How Amazon can help and frustrate when you’re promoting your novels

Hi there guys,

Thank you to those of you who read and enjoyed my debut blog last week.

I published it after putting my second crime novel ‘Long & Winding Road’ onto Kindle. My first book ‘No More Lonely Nights’ is already on Kindle, and both are also available in paperback on Amazon.

Both feature the adventures – and personal complications – of Detective Constable Dominic Strider of Chester CID, who has to single-handedly tackle serial killers and assorted criminals (including corrupt cops!) in the beautiful medieval city in the North West of England.

Importantly, I want to thank Amazon for the services they provide for authors. Yes, I know you don’t get the royalties you might from a ‘traditional’ publisher but you have to accept that the exposure it gives you is phenomenal.

So, since last week, I have been working hard to promote both these older books, and hope to use them to build up a brand recognition for myself and for Strider, in order to publicise and generate interest in my new Strider novels (book 3 is already written but unpublished, and I’m starting book 4 right now). Books 3, 4 and about half a dozen others I have planned are all new, fresh stories. I’m currently seeking literary agents/publishers to take them on.

This publicity work has proved both gratifying and frustrating. For example, Facebook adverts have a great reach but cost ££. Writing a blog on WordPress is fantastic but you need to work hard and spend ££ to ensure a wide readership. Updating my personal website – lonelynightsproductions.co.uk – has taken me hours today, as I had to go into the coding, and the content management system is a little unwieldy and doesn’t always give you the results you want.

But one of the biggest surprises was with Amazon. Now, I’m certainly not biting the hand that feeds me, as it were. But I can vent my frustration here because I’ve already spoken to Amazon about it (and they’ve responded).

When I uploaded L&WR to Kindle, I updated my Author’s Page and thought that would be it. But then I remembered that I’d had some good reviews – all 5/5 from Kindle readers for NMLN. Naturally I wanted those to be linked to my Author’s Page but could not find them anywhere. I took me a while to twig that Kindle and the Author’s Page it takes you to are all on Amazon.COM and not, as I’d naturally expected, Amazon.CO.UK as I am a British author based in London.

I spoke to Amazon and, while they thanked me for pointing it out and said they’d take on board my suggestion that an Author’s Page should be synced across all territories, they told me that – bizarrely – at present each different territory operates separately.

Which meant that, today, I had to go to CO.UK and duplicate my Author’s Page already on COM. Not too difficult, except….. what they offer is a little different. COM allows you to upload up to 8 photos, a biog, events listings, videos, and a dedicated Author’s Page URL. So my COM Author’s Page is packed with all that stuff. It’s fantastic, and I actually prefer it to what the CO.UK site offers.

However, my CO.UK Author’s Page just has the biog, videos, events and 8 photos. It looks OK but a little anemic compared to the COM page. Most disappointing is that it doesn’t include any link to my WordPress blog… ironic as it’s the UK site and I’m a UK writer!!

Also, bizarrely, my Amazon pages on both COM and CO.UK both had my info wrong – they had a line saying I’m interested in Arab culture (I’m not), have been to Palestine (I haven’t) and am a talented musician (well, I used to play the violin in an orchestra when I was a kid, but that’s about it…). I couldn’t find a way to remove this line either, so had to complain to Amazon directly for them to remove it.

Anyway, it’s all done and dusted now so this could be a little academic, I guess. But it could serve as a valuable heads up for any other writer. 🙂

I feel knackered now as I’ve been working hard on just the publicity for my books for the past three days now. There’s still more that I could do – I haven’t even started compiling a list of readers yet (though I have researched it). I’ve also made contact with a publicist for authors and provided him with links to all my online sites. He hasn’t got back to me yet but I hope to hear from him shortly and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get the chance to pick his brains and get some great ideas which I haven’t thought of yet.

I’ve also got to write a script for some 30-second videos of Strider I’m thinking of filming and publishing on my YouTube page.

So… what now? After publishing this blog and publicising it across my social media, I’ll give it a rest today. After all, it’s been more than 5 hours since I started and it’s been a bit relentless.

From tomorrow I’m going to a local cafe with my laptop and will start writing book 4 – which starts with an action scene at Chester Races, and sees Strider clash with the most evil woman he’s ever met!! Wish me luck…  🙂


My website

My Author’s Page on Amazon.com