Nick Daw's Writing Blog - Inside the writing world of Nick Daws
Receive this blog by e-mail!  Enter your e-mail address:   

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review: Box of Tricks by Jeff Phelps

I've mentioned Box of Tricks, the new novel written by Jeff Phelps and published by Tindal Street Press, a few times on Twitter, Facebook, and so on recently.

Well, I've just finished reading it and uploaded my review to I thoroughly enjoyed the book, so I thought I'd share my impressions with you here as well. Here's a slightly adapted version of my Amazon review...

Box of Tricks is difficult to categorize. It's part comedy, part nostalgia, part coming-of-age novel. But it also explores some deeper themes of freedom and responsibility, especially towards one's family.

The setting of the book - a British seaside town in the early 1960s - reflects a time when society was changing rapidly. Two of the younger characters - teenage tearaway Ray and aspiring model Julia - are enthusiastically embracing the new freedoms. The narrator, the slightly younger Eddie, finds himself torn between the old and the new.

Box of Tricks is beautifully written, in fluid, evocative prose. Yet though it is undoubtedly a literary novel, the author also weaves a deftly constructed plot, with some surprising twists and turns. Many of these centre on the eponymous back-street joke shop, which plays a pivotal role in the story.

Box of Tricks starts off slowly, then picks up pace as the key characters find their lives changing forever. The novel moves towards a conclusion that is touching without being over-sentimental. It answers enough questions to leave readers satisfied, yet enough unsaid to resonate long after the book has been put down.

Overall, Box of Tricks gets my highest recommendation as an intelligent, thought-provoking, but above all hugely enjoyable read.

Obviously, I may be just a little biased as Jeff is an old friend of mine, but I do read a lot of fiction, and this is one of the books I have most enjoyed for a long time. I've always known that Jeff is a highly talented writer, and it's great to see his work at last achieving the recognition it deserves. If you'd like to know more about Box of Tricks, here is an image link to the book's page on

If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to visit my blog to see the image link.

Incidentally, Jeff was interviewed a while ago on WritersFM about his first novel, Painter Man. He is a thoughtful and engaging interviewee, and I recommend downloading the interview from the WritersFM podcasts page and giving it a listen. Jeff has a demanding full-time job as an architect, and it's particularly interesting to hear him discuss how he manages to find time for writing in his busy schedule.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Special Guest: Kristin Callender

As previewed in this post, I am delighted today to welcome new novelist Kristin Callender to my blog. Kristin is visiting as part of a Virtual Book Tour to celebrate the publication of her novel The Truth Lies in the Dark.

Without further ado, then, let me hand you over to Kristin, who will tell you all about her book, and share some tips for other aspiring novelists...

* * *

Hi, writers and readers. I am Kristin Callender, author of The Truth Lies in the Dark. First, I would like to take a second to thank Nick Daws for having me as a guest on his blog. And, of course, I thank you for spending some of your time to read about my publishing journey.

The Truth Lies in the Dark is a mystery about Amanda, who has no memory of her life as a child. Raised by her protective grandparents, she knows only what they have told her about her past and her family. But reoccurring nightmares tell her something different, and leave her feeling like a stranger in her own mind. Then her grandfather leaves her an unfinished letter that confirms her doubts and fears. As she begins to search for her true identity she finds that everyone in her life has been keeping a life-changing secret from her, even her loving husband, Nick. In the end she must answer the two most important questions: Who is trying to help her, and who is trying to make sure the truth remains 'in the dark'?

Before I share my experiences with you, let me just say that I am not an expert telling you the right and wrong ways to get published. I am still an aspiring author myself, and want to share what has worked for me. With that said, I hope that you find something here to help you in your writing and publishing journey.

I had wanted to write a book for a long time, but with four children and a million other things always going on, I didn't think it could be done. My own self-doubt didn't help either. I had been taking college classes, one a semester at first, for years. In 2006 I finally earned a degree and was planning on working in my town as a substitute teacher. I had started The Truth Lies in the Dark that summer, with a pen and a pad while I watched my kids at the park. Very quickly the characters and their stories came to life in my head, but it was harder finding the time and confidence to get it all on paper. I actually set it aside and began getting ready to start substituting. Then, as the school year got closer, I started having dreams about the book. That was how I got the idea for a part at the end when Amanda uses the natural echo of a lake to confuse someone who is looking to harm her (I don't want to give away too much, LOL!). I knew then that I had to seriously try to finish, just to prove to myself that I could. So the kids went back to school and I sat down at the computer and wrote. Once I took it seriously, I finished the book in two months. By November I was sending out queries to publishers.

The question I am always asked is, How did you know what to do and whom to send your book to? I researched and read everything I could get my hands on, mostly online. I came across John Kremer's website (, which I still visit regularly when I get stuck or frustrated with marketing. John's advice and links have helped me better understand this new world of publishing and led me to more helpful sites, like this one. Many writers' websites said to get the newest edition of Writer's Market, published by Writer's Digest Books. I remember cringing over the price at the bookstore, still not completely believing that I would actually be published.

Writer's Market helped me with everything from what a query letter was, how to write one, and what every publisher was currently looking for. I sent out about 12 queries, and then waited day after day for any response. I would meet the mailman at the edge of my lawn, until he started looking at me strangely; like I was interested in him and not what mail he had for me. Then the rejections started coming. Then, just when I figured that every publisher I chose was going to say 'no thanks', I got two requests to see my whole manuscript. In June 2007 I signed a contract with Blue Water Press out of Florida. The Truth Lies in the Dark was published in November 2008.

The most surprising thing I learned during this process was how much work is takes to market a book. Like a lot of new authors, I thought that writing the book was the hard part. I researched it enough to anticipate some involvement in my own marketing, but never did I expect it to become a full time job. I have learned so much and am surprised how much I have enjoyed most of it. Meeting other authors, joining writers' groups and sharing publishing stories has been great.

If I could give other new authors some advice it would be find out everything you can about writing, publishing, and marketing. That way you will have a good idea what to expect and be able to stay focused on your goals during the frustrating times. And there will be a lot of frustrating times, but that only allows you to enjoy the good times more.

I am currently working on another mystery, and have a romance under consideration at a publisher in New York City. I hope to have more news about that soon.

Nick asked me what my three favorite websites were (I gather he asks all visiting writers to his blog this!). I have found something I liked about so many of them, it is hard to pick only three, but here goes... - A great site that offers advice and ideas for every step of the publishing process. - You can join specific groups or just talk to other writers and readers in the open forum. I have joined more writing groups like this. It is good to have a place to talk about the frustrations and good days with other writers.

And finally, I have to say Twitter. I am new and still figuring it all out, but am enjoying it. My Twitter address is Do follow me if you want!

You can continue to follow my Book Blog Tour by going to my website and checking out my schedule. You will find a lot more information there too. You can see pictures of the original artwork used for my cover, which was painted by my teenage son. He is a talented artist, and I am proud to be able to share this accomplishment with him.

Thank you again for taking the time to get to know me a little better. If you have any questions or comments you can find contact information on my website. I wish all of you good luck on your own writing journeys. The Truth Lies in the Dark is available from this page of the bookstore and is the 'Featured Book of the Month' at

* * *

Thank you very much to Kristin for providing such a detailed and interesting account of her publishing journey. I hope that it may have inspired other would-be novelists among you, and that if you enjoy thrillers you may want to check out The Truth Lies in the Dark for yourself.

I look forward to hearing about further publishing successes by Kristin soon. Remember where you read about her first!

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Coming Soon to This Blog: Kristin Callender

Just wanted to let you know that next Thursday, 19 March, I will be welcoming US author Kristin Callender to this blog.

Kristin is visiting my blog as part of her virtual book tour to launch her novel The Truth Lies in the Dark.

The Truth Lies in the Dark is a mystery about Amanda, who has no memory of her life as a child. Raised by her protective grandparents, she knows only what they have told her about her past and her family. But reoccurring nightmares tell her something different, and leave her feeling like a stranger in her own mind. Then her grandfather leaves her an unfinished letter that confirms her doubts and fears. As she begins to search for her true identity she finds that everyone in her life has been keeping a life-changing secret from her, even her loving husband, Nick. In the end she must answer the two most important questions: Who is trying to help her, and who is trying to make sure the truth remains 'in the dark'?

In her post, Kristin will be talking about how she came to write her book, and passing on her tips for new novelists. She will also be revealing her three favorite websites (something I like to ask all my visiting authors!).

You can read more about Kristin and her novel on her website, and also discover where else she is visiting on her tour.

The Truth Lies in the Dark is available from and it is also the featured title of the month from her publishers, Blue Water Press.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Time to Register for NaNoWriMo!

For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.

It is a challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in a month, and it comes around every November.

From humble beginnings in 1999, when there were just 21 participants, NaNoWriMo has grown into a world-wide phenomenon. Last year 101,510 people took part, and the numbers this year are expected to be even greater as the event becomes better known.

There is no entry fee for NaNoWriMo (though donations are welcome), and no prizes either. Essentially, it is a challenge to help you write that novel you had always meant to write but keep putting off. By registering with NaNoWriMo, you are joining a world-wide community of writers who are all seeking to achieve the same end, and are thus able to encourage and support one another.

This year quite a few members of my forum at have registered for NaNoWriMo 2008. If you are looking for some 'buddies' to share notes and compare progress with, check out this forum topic.

Although there are no prizes for completing a novel for NaNoWriMo, if you do (and you have to prove it by uploading your work to the NaNoWriMo site), you will be able to download an official 'Winner' web badge and a PDF Winner's Certificate, which you can print out. And, of course, you will have the first draft at least of a novel you should be able to polish and submit for possible publication.

NaNoWriMo is, by the way, a great opportunity to apply the techniques taught in WCCL's new Novel in a Month course, or indeed my own Write Any Book in Under 28 Days.

I'd like to wish you the very best of luck if you do decide to register for NaNoWriMo. Please let me know if you succeed in completing the challenge!

Labels: , , ,

Monday, September 22, 2008

Amazon Vine Review: The Painted Man

I recently read and reviewed my latest book from the Amazon Vine programme. I thought perhaps you might be interested to see it.

The book in question is The Painted Man, by Peter V. Brett. It's the first book in a planned trilogy of fantasy novels. With certain minor reservations I found it an enjoyable read. Here's a (slightly edited) version of my review.

The Painted Man is the first book of Peter V. Brett's Demon Trilogy.

It follows the lives of three young people growing up in a world where demons are very much real rather than fantasy figures. They rise from the world's core at nightfall to attack human beings, who can only protect themselves by hiding behind 'wards' - magical sigils the demons cannot (usually) pass.

The three main characters are Arlen, a talented warder (drawer of wards), Leesha, a healer, and Rojer, a jongleur (travelling minstrel). All three feel destiny pulling at them to finally rid their world of the demon plague.

Peter V. Brett has crafted a compelling fantasy novel with some original ideas, generally sympathetic characters, and an absorbing, fast-paced plot.

The Painted Man is decently written in a plain, unadorned style, though it is never going to win any literary awards. Brett's prose lacks the depth and lyrical qualities of, say, a Robin Hobb or a Robert Silverberg, two distinguished current fantasy world-weavers. There were also a few places where I felt the plotting creaked a bit, notably in the strand concerning Leesha.

Nonetheless, this is a promising debut by a new fantasy author. Anyone who enjoys reading an exciting adventure novel, without expecting it to be a literary masterpiece, is unlikely to be disappointed. I'll certainly be looking out for the second volume.

Here's a permalink to my review on, in case you'd like to read it in situ. As ever, if you like the review, a 'Helpful' vote is always appreciated!

Finally, I've included image links to the book's sales pages at and at the foot of this post. Note that, while The Painted Man is available from now, the US version won't be available till March 2009 (and for some reason it will be called The Warded Man in the US). Note also that if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the image links.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, August 18, 2008

Review: Novel in a Month

Novel in a Month is the latest in WCCL's range of products and courses for writers, which also includes my courses Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and Quick Cash Writing.

Novel in a Month is written by Dan Strauss, Senior Editor of the WCCL Network and a successful author/novelist himself.

The course is provided on CD-ROM in the universal PDF format. It is therefore suitable for all computing platforms: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

Like all WCCL products, Novel in a Month is beautifully produced, and it has clearly been professionally written and edited. The main manual (I'll get to the bonuses later) takes you step by step through everything you need to know to write a novel in the shortest possible time. Not surprisingly, I guess, the method set out in Novel in a Month bears a close resemblance to the one I set out in Write Any Book in Under 28 Days (though, of course, the latter is aimed primarily at people who want to write a non-fiction book).

I don't suppose I'm giving away too much if I reveal that the system described in Novel in a Month involves writing your first draft in three weeks, then editing it in the fourth. There is also a preliminary stage of planning and outlining, which takes up the first day or two.

Novel in a Month is packed with hints, tips and guidelines for novelists. Among the things I particularly liked were the 'population index' chart for developing characters, and Dan's P.L.O.T. plotting method, neither of which I had seen before.

Indeed, I thought Novel in a Month was particularly strong on plot and plotting methods. As well as the P.L.O.T. system, the course includes five top tips for plotting your novel, six universal plot archetypes, and so forth. My only slight reservation concerns the index card system that Dan advocates as an aid to plotting. Don't get me wrong, it's a great system, but personally I'd much prefer to work on my PC rather than start fiddling about with bits of cardboard. Still, it wouldn't be hard to adapt Dan's system to something a little more 21st century.

Other areas discussed in depth include dialogue, characterization, pacing, editing, viewpoint, writing in scenes ('show, don't tell'), and descriptive writing. Dan (correctly) emphasizes the importance of economy of style and resisting the temptation to overwrite. I can't help thinking, however, that he might have chosen a better example of this art than the late US science fiction author Isaac Asimov, entertaining though some of his short stories undoubtedly are (have you tried reading any of his 'Foundation' novels, though?). Perhaps I'm being a bit picky, however!

In addition to the main guide, you get five additional bonus items. These are as follows:

1. Getting Dialogue Down - a mini-guide to writing convincing (and correctly punctuated) dialogue.

2. How to Get Free Publicity for Your Novel - a 15-page guide showing how to get your book promoted on a shoe-string budget.

3. How to Get Celebrity Endorsements for Your Novel - if you've bought my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days course you'll know this already - but if not, the advice in this report will tell you exactly how to put this powerful technique to good use.

4. The Hottest Agents in the US and UK - this bonus guide contains over 40 pages of agent contact details, e-mail addresses, websites, guidelines, requirements, and so on.

5. 33 Techniques for Fine-Tuning Your Fiction - personally I think this is the most important and valuable of the bonuses. It shows you how to fine-tune your novel so that it stands out from the competition. Applying these 'advanced' techniques could make all the difference between having your book rejected and getting it accepted for publication.

Overall, Novel in a Month gets my recommendation as the most comprehensive course I have seen on writing a novel in the shortest possible time. If you are thinking of joining in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November, it could be the ideal guide to have at your side and on your PC. But even if you don't intend to try writing a complete novel in a month, it would still be a very useful guide to plotting and writing your first best-seller!

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, May 14, 2007

Coming Soon on WritersFM

Two of the biggest-name writers yet are about to be interviewed on WritersFM - and YOU can help choose the questions they are asked!

First up is Syd Field, an American writer who has become one of the most popular screenwriting gurus in the movie industry. Syd has written several books on the art of screenwriting (see, for example, the link below), and holds workshops that help aspiring screenwriters to produce the kinds of screenplays that will sell in Hollywood. Syd's ideas about what makes a good script have become highly influential on Hollywood producers, who have increasingly used his ideas on structure as a guide to a proposed screenplay's potential.

If your interests include screenwriting, you MUST listen out for this interview. And if you have any suggestions for questions that WritersFM host Karl Moore should put to Syd, you can raise them via this topic on my forum.

The other forthcoming interviewee is Bernard Cornwell, the prolific and popular British historical novelist. Bernard's best known books feature the adventures of Richard Sharpe, an English soldier, and are set in the Napoleonic era. Many of the books were filmed for a television series starring Sean Bean as Sharpe, produced by Central Independent Television for the ITV network. Other series written by Bernard Cornwell include 'The Starbuck Chronicles', set during the American Civil War, and his latest series 'The Saxon Stories', set in 9th century England.

This interview should be essential listening for any aspiring novelists, and historical novelists in particular. Again, if there are any questions you would like Karl to put to Bernard, you can suggest them via this topic on my forum.

Finally, just a reminder that you can listen online to the most recent WritersFM interviews (including my own!) via the new LivePlay feature on the WritersFM Podcasts page. You can also download podcasts of all past interviews from this page.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Million Penguins

...That's the title of an experiment in collaborative novel-writing currently taking place at

A Million Penguins is a joint project of the publishing house Penguin and DeMontfort University, Leicester, England.

So far the project has been running for around three weeks. From the initial sentence "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day", a substantial, if somewhat incoherent, novel is now taking shape.

Anyone interested in joining in is welcome to go along to the Million Penguins website and open an account (which is free, of course). A Million Penguins uses the wiki format that powers the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Anyone who has ever written or edited entries on Wikipedia should find the interface familiar, therefore.

Even if you're not interested in contributing, it's well worth taking a look at the project to see how it evolves. My view is that there is some good writing in there, along with a lot of poorly written nonsense. The novel has also been hijacked to some extent by one contributor who seems obsessed about bananas, and a live topic on the Million Penguins Blog is whether or not they should be banned. The novel is also lacking any overall theme or direction, though there are some promising stories embedded in it. Maybe wiki-novels are not the future of publishing, but I could see smaller wikis with membership by invitation only as an interesting possibility for future collaborations.

Anyway, do visit A Million Penguins and see what it's all about for yourself!

Labels: , ,