Historical mystery novelist Susan Grossey says 'knickers'

Today’s guest is Susan Grossey, the inventor of Constable Sam Plank, one of my favourite law enforcers. “I have been in love with words ever since I realised, at age three, that those squiggles on the page actually meant something,” she says. Susan edited the school newspaper and managed to do lots more reading and writing at university (where, of course, she studied English). In real life, she runs her own anti-money laundering consultancy, which gives her plenty of opportunity to write a great deal about her very favourite subject – money laundering.

In her spare time, she can be found haunting the streets of 1820s London, in the company of magistrates’ constable Sam Plank. He is the narrator of her series of historical financial crime novels set in consecutive years in the 1820s – just before Victoria came to the throne, and in the (fascinating) policing period after the Bow Street Runners and before the Metropolitan Police.

Over to Susan!

I never expected to find myself writing a series of books. The first Sam Plank adventure, Fatal Forgerywas originally written from the point of view of the crooked banker at the heart of the story, but I just couldn’t warm to him. And I realised that if I didn’t like him much, then neither would any (at that time, imaginary) readers. Although the darn thing had taken me two years to write (I have a full-time job and do my writing at weekends) I bit the bullet and decided to write the book all over again, this time narrated by the man who arrested the banker – magistrates’ constable Samuel Plank. And I really warmed to him! So much so that, once Fatal Forgery was finished, I realised I couldn’t bear to let Sam go, and so I decided that he could have a whole series of adventures – seven in total.

I’m writing number six at the moment.  They are set in consecutive years in the 1820s and, with a small band of recurring characters living in one city in a small window of time, I have had to become quite an expert on urban life in Regency times.

Being a pedantic person at heart, and always infuriated when I find historical inaccuracies in whatever I am reading or watching (Don’t get me started on how Ross Poldark, no matter how fetching his torso or how warm the day, would not have scythed shirtless.), I am obsessive about getting the details right.  I research and research and research, and then research some more.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to stop researching and start writing. The ideal for which I aim is to know everything myself so that I can drop little details into the text, almost unobtrusively, so that the reader believes them absolutely and is being steeped in the Regency world without realising it.

One of my recent research projects was into knickers: Sam’s wife Martha had to undress and I wanted to be sure that she did it right.  It is sometimes rumoured that women of Martha’s generation did not wear knickers.  That is not strictly true: by the end of the eighteenth century, under-garments (no-one said “underwear” in those days) for your average woman would have included drawers.

Drawers were two separate leg pieces gathered into a band below the knee, tied around the waist, and – ahem – with no join at the crotch.  It would have been a bit breezy, but certainly saved time if you were caught short. Incidentally, the two legs detail is why we still talk about a pair of knickers, when it is actually only one garment.

Over her drawers Martha wore a chemise – a plain cotton shift a bit like a modern nightgown, and performing the same function as a slip today.  Martha, like all women of her time and class, bathed rarely, and washing her chemise was considerably easier than washing what went over it, so it served to absorb her sweat and protect her dresses.  And over the chemise went her petticoat, to give shape to those dresses and to keep her warm.

Martha also wore stockings, but not the sheer, lacy-topped things we might choose today.  Regency stockings were knitted – usually in thick wool but occasionally (and expensively) in fine silk.  There was no suspender belt to hold them up and so they were tied around the leg just below the knee (with a garter or ribbon), with the top of the stocking folded down over the garter or ribbon – as a result, they looked rather like modern knee-socks.

We cannot leave Martha’s undergarments without talking about her bust. The bra was not invented until more than a century after Martha would have needed it. Instead, women in the Regency era were slightly luckier than their Victorian daughters in that they wore only short stays (or corsets – both terms were both used) rather than the long ones.

Short stays stopped above the hips and were laced at the back in a zigzag fashion using one string and stiffened in the front with a carved wooden or bone busk which created a straight posture and separated the breasts. They were tricky to manage alone: if a lady had a maid, lacing stays was part of her work.

Ordinary women helped each other (mothers and daughters, sisters, etc.), and in my books Sam rather enjoys dealing with the removal of Martha’s stays.  What they choose to do next is none of our business.

Connect with Susan
For more research updates like this one and on life in Regency times, sign up to her monthly newsletter
Follow her blog: www.susangrossey.wordpress.com/current-project-blog
Sam occasionally ventures an opinion on Twitter as @ConstablePlank

What’s Faith, Hope and Trickery about?
Rose Welford, the wife of a bootmaker, is smothered in her bed in the summer of 1828. Her husband quickly confesses to the crime, claiming that a message from beyond the grave told him to do it. At ever more popular gatherings in fields, factories and fine houses, a charismatic preacher with a history of religious offences seems to be at the heart of it all – but who, and what, can be believed when fortunes are at stake?  In this fifth novel in the series, Constable Sam Plank is drawn into matters beyond his understanding when his wife Martha hears a message of her own and his junior constable Wilson makes a momentous choice.

Amazon UK   Amazon US

Faith, Hope and Trickery has been shortlisted for the Selfies Award 2019 – the winner will be announced at the London Book Fair on 12 March 2019. (Best of luck, Susan!)


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter.

Helena Halme's top tips for writing in another language

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Helena Halme to my blog. A former BBC journalist, bookseller and magazine editor, Helena is a prize-winning author who writes contemporary Nordic fiction. Originally from Finland where she gained an MSc in Marketing, she also holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and writes in English.

She has published eight fiction titles and two non-fiction books, including Write Your Story: Turn Your Life Into Fiction in 10 Easy StepsHelena acts as Nordic Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors and helps other writers publish and market their books.

As a linguist myself, I’m fascinated by her experience of writing books in another language!

Over to Helena…

When I tell people I’m a writer, originally from Finland, they often ask me what language I use. When I tell them I write in English, the next query inevitably is ‘How do you do that?’ So after years of talking about this subject, I’ve finally put together a book on How to Write in Another Language in 10 Easy Steps. Here is a short summary of my top tips on writing in another language.

Use Your Unique Voice
The one important positive in writing in a foreign language is the different voice you can achieve. As a non-native speaker, you have a certain degree of detachment when writing in another language. Use this distinctiveness in your favour. Even if you don’t set your books in your native country, you can still use your uniqueness in your style, characterisation and plot development.

Get the basics right
When writing in a language that is not your mother tongue, it is vital to get the grammar and use of language right. Even if you’re looking to use a specific style or a completely new voice, it’s important to follow the most common rules on grammar and spelling.

Ask a Native Speaker
Those whose mother tongue you are using can often spot mistakes, such as wrong prepositions or clumsy word order, quicker than you can. So before you send your work to your editor, ask someone – a friend or colleague – to have a quick read-through of your text.

Ignore Your Inner Critic
When you know that your natural inner editor isn’t as effective in the adopted language as it is in your mother tongue, it’s easy to overcompensate by being too careful when writing. This slows you down and blocks your creativity, so I recommend that you try not to let your inner critic stop your flow. Remember that the first version of your manuscript, whether you are a native speaker or not, is just a draft. Ernest Hemingway famously said ‘The first draft of anything is always shit’!

Read What You Write
When I began writing in English, I didn’t stop reading books in other languages. I’d always been proud that I could read novels in the language they’d first been published in, be it Finnish, Swedish or French. But during my MA in Creative Writing, when I didn’t have time to read anything but the English texts that had been given to me, my writing improved and became more fluent. Now, sadly, I avoid reading books in anything else but English.

You may be an exception in this. There are many multilingual authors who can switch languages easily. But, if you are struggling with writing, it’s worth ‘switching off’ the other languages in your life. Immersing yourself in the language you write in may make a huge difference to you.

I hope you have found this very short rundown of my top tips useful. I believe that using different languages enriches your life and through that your writing.

I couldn’t agree more, Helena, as a speaker of several languages myself!


You can find Helena online:
Website: www.helenahalme.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenaHalmeAuthor
Twitter: www.twitter.com/Helenahalme
Instagram: www.instagram.com/helenahalme


More about Write in Another Language in 10 Easy Steps 

A guide for non-native writers packed with practical tips to make it easier to write in another language

  • How to strengthen your language skills
  • How to ensure your text is free from errors
  • How to use software and other online tools
  • How to take advantage of your ‘foreigness’
  • How to avoid your inner critic and let your words flow
  • How other writers use a second language for inspiration

Write in Another Language in 10 Easy Steps is out 30 April 2019, but you can now pre-order the Kindle copy here.



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter

Book reviewer frustration

Reviewing books isn’t easy. It takes time and attention, plus sometimes, you have to damp down the pleasure that wells up when it’s a really good read. If I’m grabbed, sometimes overwhelmed, by the power of the story, I read on and enjoy the book, then I go back and read it more analytically.

However, book reviews are subjective. This is what I tell myself when any of my books receives a one or two-star comment on Amazon; thankfully, it’s a reasonably rare event. 😉

I review for various groups and organisations, sometimes as me and – big secret revealed – sometimes under a variety of pen names. If I know the author and I’m underwhelmed by their latest, I’d rather not hurt their feelings.

Above all, book reviewing must be honest. “It was wonderful, darling!” does nobody any good. As an author, I wonder what the reviewer isn’t telling me. I hope my books are reasonable, but I know they aren’t ideal for everybody or at Nobel-winning level.

As a reviewer, I want to say what’s “wonderful”;  how it resonated with me, how well the story flowed, how well-written it was, how natural and complex the characters were. But if there were faults, I think it’s honest to tell the author.

Of course, pointing out problems should be done constructively and only refer to the work, not the author. Pointing out the author has the intelligence of a donkey and research ability of a gnat isn’t very kind. Better to suggest that “more thorough research in area x or y would be worthwhile.”

Which brings me to my chief niggles when I’m sent a book for review…

I review indie and traditional authors, first books and twentieth in series, but I expect a certain standard however the book is brought to market. The author/publisher is asking the reading public for money in exchange for their work so it should be fit for purpose.

Covers vary and I’m not going into that area in this post – there are far wiser heads out there. I’m focusing on the innards of a book. The following are all irritating and bad signs, but they vary in their awfulness. In ascending order…

Niggle 1 (minor) – Front and back matter

Writers are readers and come across a lot of books. It only takes a few minutes to check how the title, copyright, list of other books, a brief author bio, character list, family trees, maps, acknowledgements, historical note, etc. are set out. Their presentation is nothing to do with the story, but shows the level of seriousness and professionalism with which the writer has approached the whole project of publishing their book.

An example print layout. Not necessarily perfect, but clear.

Niggle 2 (medium) – Spelling and grammar

Yes, it’s the story that counts, but no, not if the author can’t be bothered to get these basics right. Different Anglophone territories have different spelling systems – colour/color, honor/honour – and different syntax – “Can I get?”/”May I have?” – and vocabulary – boot/trunk, soft drink/soda. Most readers are grown-up enough to take this on board. Indeed, language differences can enhance the atmosphere and setting as can foreign phrases at non-essential points.

But within these systems, language should be consistent and used correctly.

Niggle 3 (major) – Editing

This is separate from Niggle 2 in that all the spelling and grammar can be technically correct, but the book can still be poorly edited. At a basic level, apostrophes, speech marks (whether single or double) are important as are the correct dashes (hyphen, en-dash or em-dash).

But a good edit takes the book into a polished wonder. It’s a process, from the author carrying out the first self-edit, to the structural editor, the copy editor and finally, the proofreader. Critique partners and beta readers can give feedback on structure, cohesiveness and sheer readability but it’s the copy editor who nails the flow and polishes the text.

I’ve just finished a moving story with impeccable research cleverly inserted and very good characterisation, but poorly, if at all edited. Such a pity as it would have been a true ‘good read’.

Excuses given for not having a book edited

Not knowing how essential it is
Remedy – Ask other informed/experienced authors, research publishing articles from reputable sources, look at your own reviews so far, consult a publishing expert. In short, learn your trade.

Laziness/not caring/being overconfident = attitude problem
You are 99.99% unlikely to be Harper Lee/Joanne Harris/Shakespeare and your book is unlikely to be The Great British/American/Australian Novel. However hard you have worked on your book, you are too close to it, your baby. You will not be able to see its flaws.

But if you can’t be bothered to have your book edited to give your readers a top-notch experience for their hard-earned cash, then shame on you.

You, your auntie, your sister or your friend might be an English teacher/lecturer, but they are not a professional book editor.

Remedy – Examine your attitude while putting yourself in your potential reader’s shoes. Bottom line: if they are discontent with your first book, they probably won’t risk buying the second.

Not having the money to pay for it
This can a genuine problem, but why have you put your book out prematurely? Better not to publish it yet rather than putting a sub-standard product on the market.

Remedy – Try to find a few pound/dollars/euros a week and put them in a locked savings box and give the key to a trusted friend. You’ll need around 5-600 for a good quality edit. Enforced saving will get you on track. Ask for money for birthdays, Christmas, etc. to boost the contents of the box. In the meantime, draft your next book.

Not having the confidence to invest in yourself
This goes hand-in-hand with imposter syndrome, i.e. wondering if you’re good enough to warrant the expense, whether writing is a genuine occupation for anybody to be spending money on, or if writing is nothing more than a pleasant hobby.

Remedy – Ask yourself these questions
How serious are you about your writing?
Is it a life obsession?
Do you want to share it with the world?
Do you want to learn more about your craft?
Do you want to supplement your income?

The answers will help you make up your mind.

Publishing a book is not for softies and the market is a cross between the Amazon jungle and a deserted coral island. You owe it to your readers and importantly to yourself to turn your book into polished gold that will outshine the rest of the treasure out there.

And make reviewers happy.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter</em

10 reasons why a book is a good read?

A good read

Yep, it’s an old question, but a good one. Choosing and enjoying  a book is very personal and each reader’s view is subjective. This is why reviews of any one book can vary so much! But here’s my personal take on what makes a good read for me (YMMV).

  • A well-paced story, with a clever plot so I’m intrigued about what happens next.
  • A clean and clear style that flows easily.
  • A plausible (but not necessarily real) world, correct for its (supposed) time and (supposed) geographical location where the characters talk and dress appropriately.
  • Enough detail to trigger my imagination, one or two small things to set the scene  but NOT a blow-by-blow description of every brick in every house in every town. So no info-dump, just integrated detail dripped in about the world I’m being drawn into.
  • Lots of lively dialogue that carries the story along.
Where it shows me what the characters do and how they react rather than just tell me. I don’t mind whether characters are comfortable or not with their lives as long as they have made some change or developed in some way by the end. Flaws, temper, uncertainties and vulnerabilities are all fine, but please, not TSTL (Too stupid to live) or I’ll chuck the book in the bin.
  • Some characters who do the right thing for the right reasons, even if it’s against “the rules”. But they can definitely be a bit naughty and do some morally dubious things as long as they get to the honourable goal.
  • Characters I can identify with, so I can find some common attitudes, experiences and feelings. They’re not me and I’m not them, but I want to connect.
  • Not necessarily a happy ending, but a satisfactory resolution to the story.

That’s nine things. Over to you. What’s your tenth?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter

Clare Flynn - The first book is the toughest!

A pleasure to host multi-published historical fiction author Clare Flynn on the blog today. I’ll let her introduce herself…

I would have given you all of my heart
But there’s someone who’s torn it apart
And he’s taken just all that I had
But if you want I’ll try to write again
Baby I’ll try to write again but I know

The first book is the toughest
Baby I know the first book is the toughest.

(With apologies to Cat Stevens (and to Rod))

My first novel, A Greater World is published today! Yes – four and a half years after its publication, it’s about to be reborn. After self-publishing eight historical novels and loving almost every minute of the indie publishing journey, I was approached out of the blue and offered a trade publishing deal with Canelo. They are re-launching A Greater World on  10th January and publishing a sequel, Storms Gather Between Us, in June. I will still be a proud indie, but I’m delighted and excited to have a second string to my bow.

So, to mark the re-release of A Greater World, I thought I’d tell you a bit about how I got there and why my bowdlerisation of Cat Stevens’s song is appropriate to me and the book.

People who know me might describe me as a fast and prolific writer. I’ve published three full-length novels in 2018. A Greater World, however, was a lot slower in its gestation. I can’t remember exactly when I started to write it. My best guess is some time after my second trip to Australia in 1998. It was first published in 2014, sixteen years later. So why was I such a slow coach then?

Having the wrong mindset
When I began the book, I used to refer to it even to myself as “my trashy novel”. It was almost as if I’d given myself a free pass to do less than my best. There was also a bit of intellectual snobbery (“The kinds of books I read are superior.”) mixed in with insecurity (“I’ll never be good enough to write the kind of book I read myself.”)

Writing was a slow and painful process because I wasn’t fully committed to it. It was as if I were ashamed of what I was doing. I imagined I would have to use a pen name as I wouldn’t want me name associated with it. I’d become a literary fiction snob. Then I realised that a lot of the books I’d been reading lately were actually boring the pants off me, and the books I’ve enjoyed over a lifetime of reading have come from all genres, not just literary fiction. Once upon I time I didn’t even care – a book absorbed me, or it didn’t. So, I decided I’d try to write a book that might have absorbed me as a reader, and that I could feel proud of – even if it was never going to be a literary prize winner. That unlocked things. I began to write the book I wanted to write – and I have never used a pen name.

Having some bad luck 
And he’s taken just all that I had” – having written 80,000 words, my house was burgled on the day before Christmas Eve in 2007 and the burglar took my Macbook and the other laptop I’d backed it up on. I’ve told this story so many times before, so apologies if you’ve heard it, but I was ready to throw in the towel. This book was just not meant to be. I nursed my wounds for six months until I moved house, leaving the Ghost of Burglars Past behind me.

It was then that I read about TE Lawrence leaving the manuscript of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom in a luggage rack when he changed trains at Reading station. Despite a nationwide appeal it was never recovered. Lawrence’s manuscript was 250,000 words and he sat down and rewrote it in three months – 400,000 words this time, from memory. One of my fundamental weaknesses is my highly competitive nature, so naturally I said if he could do it so can I. And I did.

Taking the slow road
Having finished my rewrite, I set about looking for an agent. This was 2012 and despite reading a lot about the blooming of self-publishing and the golden opportunities it offered, I remained convinced that the only way for me was the traditional way. My agent was incredibly helpful and gave me lots of advice to improve the book. Several months and two drafts later, she was ready to send it out. That was when the scales began to fall from my eyes. After a lifetime in Marketing I began to curse the discipline that I’d earned my living from – when I heard the constant refrain of ‘I love it but can’t sell it to Marketing’, or ‘We already have an author on our list in that space’ or ‘Marketing says books set in Australia don’t sell’. When my agent didn’t like my second book, I told her I’d have a go at self-publishing. She gave me her blessing and we parted our ways. While things were slow at first – only £500 of sales in the first six months, I discovered the fantastic supportive world of indie publishing and soaked up as much knowledge and advice as was available – it was plentiful and so generously given! After that things got better and faster, although it’s fair to say I do work very hard.

The subsequent books were much less tough
My second novel, Kurinji Flowerswas written and published within a year and followed a year later by Letters from a Patchwork Quilt. Since then, I’ve upped the pace of writing and publishing. The follow-up to A Greater World, will be published by Canelo in June 2019. It took me four to five months to write. That’s not to say it was easy. I still agonise and go through ‘dark nights of the writer’s soul’ with massive self-doubt and fear that it will never work out or it will be my worst-ever book – but now I know enough about myself and my writing to realise that it will come right in the end. I also have the luxury of being a full-time writer now which makes a massive difference.

So, why have I taken a trade deal?
The answer is simple. I think I will learn a lot from it. Having a different perspective will be interesting. I want to see if having the clout of a publisher behind me will make a difference. I’ve done pretty well on my own, but I’d never be so arrogant as to assume that someone else can’t do it better. I still have seven other titles under my own control so I can continue to indulge my daily fix of checking my sales figures. The team at Canelo have so far proved to be flexible and collaborative and I am enjoying the relationship. I’ve always been a fairly prudent person when it comes to financial matters so it’s only natural that I don’t want to have all my eggs in one basket.

I will be putting Canelo to the test as I go away for four months in January – five days before the launch of A Greater World. I delivered the manuscript for the sequel a couple of weeks ago and my editor there says it’s good to go. As I’m going to have only limited and sporadic internet access while I’m gone, the future of these two books is now very much in their hands. I will be sailing around the world and I’m giving myself some time off. No promises about writing another book while I’m gone (but I wouldn’t bet against it!).

More information Clare and her books here:  https://clareflynn.co.uk
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorclareflynn/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/clarefly  @clarefly


So what’s A Greater Worldabout?
Here’s what my publisher says :
A wrenching saga of the voyage that changed their lives. Elizabeth Morton, born into a prosperous family, and Michael Winterbourne, a miner, come from different worlds but when they each suffer unspeakable and life-changing tragedy they’re set on a path that intertwines on the deck of the SS Historic, bound for Sydney. Falling in love should have been the end to all their troubles. But fate and the mysterious Jack Kidd make sure it’s only the beginning.”

Just this morning I had a wonderful comment about the book from a reader, on Facebook. She said, “It’s truly one of the best novels I have ever read, I loved it. Can’t wait to read the follow up too.” It’s comments like that which make all the difference to a writer!

A Greater World is on sale at all key online retailers and also available as a paperback and audiobook.

Amazon Kindle     Apple iBooks    Google Play    Kobo

Thank you, Clare! I’ve read A Greater World and heartily recommend it.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter