Sunday, 19 October 2014

Video: Behind the Cover: Featuring Steve Robinson

The mini-documentary I was asked to make for Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing earlier in the year has now been released. It focuses on my eight year journey since being made redundant from my career in telecoms, to realising my dream of becoming a full-time author. I hope you enjoy it.



Shooting the film was a lot of fun, even if I was pretty nervous about it beforehand. It's wonderful to be able to look back on the day through the medium of video. We visited a few locations: my home and garden, the river in the village where I live, and for the afternoon we took the train into London to shoot outside St.Paul's Cathedral, which features in my third book, The Last Queen of England. I've uploaded some new 'behind the scenes' photographs from the day, which were taken by the stills photographer, Jason. That's him on the right. Thanks Jase! You can click on any image to see the larger versions in the gallery.


I was asked to grab my hat and put it on
in the mirror before heading off to my cabin.

Shooting the 'hat' scene by my back door.

Being interviewed outside my writing cabin.

Sitting on the sofa inside my cabin,
reading my second book, To the Grave.

Being interviewed by the river.
Fluffy boom mic and all!

Tapping story ideas into Notes on my iPhone.

A portrait by the river.

The dome of St Paul's Cathedral.

Shooting outside St Paul's Cathedral. I found
this bit quite scary as it's a very busy area, with
people walking close by, often stopping to watch.

I wonder what I was thinking about?


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The hat's out of the bag!


If you've been following my blog, you'll likely know that I filmed a mini-documentary for Kindle Direct Publishing earlier in the year. I had expected to see it sooner, but it makes perfect sense to release it just a few days before the release of my new Jefferson Tayte Mystery, The Lost Empress. During a telephone conversation with my editor on Monday, I was told it would be out towards the end of this week. Then last night, via Twitter, I saw the photo above of me in my writing hat by my back door, along with the announcement that the film would be out tomorrow!

It may also come as no surprise to some to know that I write while wearing a bucket hat, and I've been promising to post some pictures of me wearing it for some time. It began as a practical way to block out the sunlight streaming through my kitchen window, where I wrote much of my first three books. From there the hat became a way to block out my peripheral vision to reduce distraction while I was writing. I felt this helped me to focus. Since then it's become something of a quirky superstition, and I wear it whenever I write in the belief that I won't write well unless I do - as if it's a direct link to my muse and he won't call on me unless I've got my old bucket hat on. The threads are wearing a bit thin now, and I really hope it lasts at least long enough to finish my Jefferson Tayte series. It's crazy, I know, but it got me wondering about other authors' quirks, and I soon discovered that, not only wasn't I alone in this, but that my need to write in my trusty old writing hat is a rather mild quirk by comparison to what I found.

As a means to shut out distraction, towards the end of her life and due to her illness, Flannery O'Connor used to write facing the plain wood of her dresser. Facing a blank canvas in one form or another seems commonplace amongst writers, and to paraphrase Francine Prose, that seems like the perfect metaphor for being a writer. Francine Prose writes in her husband's flannel pyjamas, by the way.

Truman Capote has said that he can't think unless he's lying down, so he reportedly wrote   horizontally. William Faulkner would stay up late drinking whiskey with a friend, and then disappear to write in the mornings, repeating the process come evening. Alexandre Dumas was superstitious about the colour of the paper he wrote on. He liked blue paper for novels, and when he was once forced to used cream paper he was convinced that it upset his writing.

Edgar Allan Poe believed his cat, Catterina, to be his literary guardian. Vladimir Nabokov wrote most of his books on index cards and was very particular about the type of pencil he used. Early 20th century author, Thomas Clayton Wolfe, reportedly wrote while leaning on his refrigerator because he was so tall. And my favourite... John Cheever used to write in his underpants because he saw no sense in creasing the only suit he had at that time. You could call that practical and logical, but it's certainly eccentric.

Do you know of any other authors' writing quirks or superstitions? If you're an author, perhaps you have one of your own. I'd love to hear about it. 


If you'd like to watch my Kindle Direct Publishing video, do pop back
over the next few days. I'll post it here on my blog as soon as I can.



Saturday, 4 October 2014

New Information page for The Lost Empress now live on my website

I've created the information page on my website for my new Jefferson Tayte mystery. It includes my inspiration for the story and how I set out to tell it, plus some facts about the Empress of Ireland, along with a few links to some of the websites I visited during my research. Here's a LINK.

You can also now hear the prologue from the audiobook edition, as performed by the very talented Simon Vance, who recorded the first three books in the series.

Early indications from professional readers who have received advance copies of The Lost Empress are very promising. Here are some of the highlights from those early reviews already posted on Goodreads.


Praise for The Lost Empress from advance copy readers...

'An utterly gripping story.'

     'I loved this book - it was engaging from page one.'

'I would highly recommend this book. It’s a cracking story.'

     'A tremendous novel of treachery and suspense.'

'A true trust no one tale that spans all ages.'

     'More genealogy, and the genealogy was really interesting.'

'The fourth in the series, this is, I believe, Robinson’s best.'


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Technology, and its impact on genealogical research.


Technology is changing the way genealogists conduct their research. But in the long term, is it changing for better or for worse?

I came across a quote on Goodreads today. It's a conversation from the third book in my Jefferson Tayte genealogical mystery series, The Last Queen of England, and once again it got me thinking about the way family historians of the future will go about their research.

Here it is:

    ‘So what’s your topic for tomorrow?’ Tayte asked, changing the subject. Marcus had been a key speaker at the genealogy convention for many years, and this year Tayte knew he had something controversial planned.
    ‘Technology,’ Marcus said, relaxing again. ‘Specifically the World Wide Web and how it’s changing the way we genealogists do our job—and not necessarily for the better.’
    Jean seemed surprised by his negativity. ‘Surely the Internet’s making things easier, isn’t it?’
    Tayte agreed.
    ‘In many ways, yes,’ Marcus said. ‘Access to archives has never been easier, but there are serious downsides. There’s a price to pay.’
    ‘How so?’ Tayte asked.
    ‘Well, take e-mail for example. People don’t write to each other anymore, do they? Once my generation’s gone, the written letter will be consigned to social history. Tell me, Jefferson. When did you last write a letter?’
    Tayte had to think about it. When the occasion came to him, he smiled, wide and cheesy. ‘It was to you,’ he said. ‘I wrote you on your sixtieth birthday.’
    ‘That was five years ago.’
    ‘I still wrote you.’
    Marcus looked sympathetic. ‘It was an e-mail.’
    ‘Was it?’
    Marcus nodded. ‘You see my point? Letters are key to genealogical research, and they’re becoming obsolete. Photographs are going the same way.’ He looked genuinely saddened by the thought. ‘How many connections have you made going through boxes of old letters and faded sepia photographs? How many assignments would have fallen flat without them?’
    ‘Too many,’ Tayte agreed.
    ‘I can’t see genealogists of the future fervently poring over their clients’ old e-mails, can you? Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the excitement and the scent of time that so often accompanies the discovery?’
    He had Tayte there, too. Tayte’s methods were straight out of the ‘Marcus Brown School of Family History.’ Tripping back into the past through an old letter and a few photographs represented everything he loved about his work. It wouldn’t be the same without the sensory triggers he currently took for granted.
    ‘So what’s the answer?’ Jean said.

Technology is certainly changing things. On one hand, and while we're in transition, it appears to be for the better as we genuinely have the best of both worlds. The old photographs and letters still exist, waiting to be discovered, and access to archives really has never been easier. It also seems that every week a new online resource is made available to us, which we can search from the comfort of our homes. All good stuff then...

But what about those old photographs and the letters we currently take for granted? The vast majority of those memories - those connections to the past - will someday only be available on personal hard drives in the form of digital photos snapped with our cameras, and emails locked in a folder that is all too easily deleted or otherwise destroyed in time. We take more photographs nowadays of course, and many are uploaded to the internet, potentially making research easier. But what happens to all that data when a person dies and their website or blog expires - their personal computer sold on or destroyed? Perhaps the important data will be handed down, much as we've become accustomed to handing down family photo albums and personal letters. But I do wonder.

I love technology, and ultimately I think it will continue to make genealogical research better. But this has certainly got me thinking. How will technology shape things for the genealogist of the future?

What do you think? I'd love to know. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Photographs from Italy - the Dolomites


Last week I was in Italy, in lovely Corvara, which is right at the heart of the magnificent Dolomite mountains. My companions were my best friend from my school days called Andy, and a rather heavy backpack full of camera gear as we're both keen amateur photographers - in case you didn't know that already. The decision over what to take on the trip proved a challenge for both of us as space was an issue, as was weight. That's Andy on the right, by the way. We've known each another since we started secondary school, age twelve.



It you're interested in the camera gear I took with me, please read on. If not, you can safely skip this paragraph. For those still reading on, I can highly recommend the F-Stop Tilopa rucksack. It proved tough and comfortable with a fully loaded large slope ICU (Internal Camera Unit). For this trip I loaded the bag with a Canon 5D mk3 camera body and three lenses: 14mm f2.8L, 35mm f1.4L and a 135mm f2L, the latter of which I bought specifically for the trip for some extra (relatively lightweight) reach, especially when coupled with my 1.4x or 2.0x teleconverter, giving 189mm and 270mm. The 14mm is quite a specialist lens, and this time around it saw very little use. I love it, though, and just couldn't bear to leave it behind.

What did prove useful was a Canon 500d close-up lens. It screws onto the front of other lenses like a filter, reducing the close focus distance. Coupled with my 135mm f2L, I found it a very impressive travelling option. The combo allowed me to leave my macro lens at home, saving space and weight while letting me get close enough to capture some great detail. Also in my bag was a tripod and ball head, a small flash unit, several filters, a three litre water bladder and, and...

Anyway, onto the mountains, and as with my books, it's great to be able to share my passion like this. Thank you Internet, and most of all thank you for visiting my blog to see some of the shots I came home with. Overall, I took close to 1000 photos during the week, which boiled down to 60 shots that I felt best captured the trip and the majesty of these truly wonderful mountains. It's been difficult to choose which photographs to put on my blog, and which to leave out. These are some my favourites. Click on any image to view  in greater detail. I hope you enjoy them.  



















Thursday, 4 September 2014

Look Inside The Lost Empress - Jefferson Tayte Book 4

The 'look inside' feature on Amazon is now live for my new Jefferson Tayte genealogical mystery, The Lost Empress, which will be released in all formats worldwide on 21 October - unless you live in Australia, in which case you can get it a day early on the 20th. I'm getting more and more excited about it every day.

Below is an excerpt, which is from the preface to the book. This is the first time I've used a preface in my work, and I've done so now because when I came across the material during my research I felt it set the backdrop for the book very well.

The full sample, which includes the prologue and part of chapter one (where we catch up with Jefferson Tayte again) is viewable via this link.  Alternatively, you can access it via the 'look inside' feature on the Amazon store wherever you are.



Kent, England. Three weeks ago.
     This would be his first murder, and he hoped it would be his last. His mouth felt dry despite having just been sick. He could still feel the gastric acid burning his throat—still smell the sweet bile that now stained his clothes. He wanted nothing more than to withdraw back into the shadows where he’d been waiting for the right moment, psyching himself up. But he knew he had to do it. There was no turning back now. He put on a pair of thin gloves and pulled a grey ski mask over his head as he continued across the moonlit yard, checking to his left and to his right as he went. It was quiet—no one else around. The owner of the workshop-cum-warehouse he was heading for didn’t even have a guard dog, which would have complicated things because he liked dogs.
There was a light on inside, just a single lamp by his reckoning. That was where his victim would be, working late for the last time. He reached the door and pulled a sleek carving knife from inside his jacket, which he’d bought from the local supermarket that afternoon. He’d thought long and hard about how he would do it, concluding that a knife would be quick and quiet and easy to obtain, even if it did mean getting closer to his victim than he wanted to.
He went around to the side of the building, heading away from the light, and began to prise the tip of his knife beneath each window frame as he passed, waiting for one to pop open. It was an old building, as old as the antiques the man inside liked to restore for all he knew. The windows were covered in a film of dirt, their old metal frames chipped and rusty. The fourth window he came to lifted easily and he stopped beneath it. It was time. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves as he eased it open. Then he pulled himself up and slipped inside.
He could just make out the shapes of crates and boxes in the dim moonlight, and he cursed himself for not thinking to bring a torch. You’re such an amateur, he thought as he fought the dry cough that was rising in his throat from all the dust he’d kicked up. He stepped further in, feeling his way around the crates, looking for the door. Then he heard music, classical music that was faint and tinny, as though coming from a small radio. The sound guided him, and as his eyes adjusted he began to make out the glow beneath the door from the room beyond.
The heady smell of polish and linseed oil hit him as he teased the door open. The man he had gone there to kill had his back to him. He was bent over an old pedestal desk twenty feet away, rubbing the surface with a cloth in smooth, even strokes that seemed to keep time with the string section that was playing on the radio. He thought that was good. It would help to mask his approach as he crept up behind him, but after taking two steps, his nerves got the better of him and he ran to the desk, knife in hand. He grabbed the man by the collar of his overalls and pushed him back onto the desk, quickly showing him the knife so there was no mistaking his intention.

Please follow the link above to read the full sample.



Saturday, 16 August 2014

Blog Tour: My Writing Process

Writing hat optional
Last week I was kindly asked to participate in a blog tour about writing process by Kindle User's Forum friend, David Wailing, author of the techno-thriller Auto series. The idea is that each author on the tour answers a set of pre-defined questions about how and why they write, so here's how I do it - although I have to say that of the four books I've written so far, I've not done it the same way twice. I don't know if that's because my stories are all a little different from each other, leading me to adopt a different approach each time, or perhaps it's because by the time I've travelled the often long road to finish a book and am ready to start another, I've forgotten how I did it! I suspect, though, that it's simply due to the inevitable evolution of my journey as an author.

What am I working on?
No prizes for guessing the answer to this one. I'm working on the next (5th) Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery. I've literally just started writing it, having spent the last few months finding the story and loosely plotting it. I had planned to plot this one up front and in great detail so that I could just get on with the writing once I started, but I've decided I can't work that way. I want to be surprised along the way, and while I've certainly planned a few surprises, I think the best stuff often comes from the characters as I get going and the story develops. I have a title already, which is a first for me as they usually come from something within the story, or from the general theme once it's developed. I'm afraid I can't share anything about it just yet. Okay, I could but I don't want to, so there. ;o) I wouldn't say that I'm generally a superstitious person, but when it comes to my books, I like to keep things close to my chest until the story is well under way. All I will say for now is that it's going to be a very big story for Jefferson Tayte.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
I think this has been a very important factor in how I managed to make a full-time career from my writing. I'd heard many times that a new author needs to have something new to say, or at least a new way to say it, and that was one of the things I kept in mind when I set about trying to become an author. I had no specific genre in mind when I started out as I wanted to keep all my options open. I just understood that whatever genre my work slotted into, I had to bring something new to it.

Cue my genealogical detective, Jefferson Tayte. He was born out of the historical story I wanted to tell, and the questions it raised. A past murder... Mysteries both past and present, somehow intertwined... How could I get to the past story from the present day in a way I'd not heard of before? I had already become interested in family history through TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? and because of my own intrigue about my American GI grandfather, whom I knew little about at the time. I think it was because of this that the answer, when it eventually came, seemed so obvious to me that I couldn't believe no one (to my knowledge) had done it before. I would tell the story - a whole series of stories - through the exploits of a family historian, digging up the past and often putting himself in danger along the way. You know those moments when something major happens and you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing at the time? Well this was just like that. It was nine years ago, back in 2005, but I can still recall the scene with great clarity, and I remember the tingle that ran through me when Jefferson Tayte stepped forward and presented me with the answer I was looking for.

Why do I write what I do?
I'm drawn to crime fiction, largely because it's what I enjoy reading, so I suppose it's inevitable that that's the genre I now write for. My debut book, In the Blood, sprang entirely from a somewhat damning verse written by a Cornish farmer in 1803. My penchant for crime fiction asked 'what if he was murdered the night he wrote it?' So the story began... I also like a good mystery - questions raised that leave the reader in need of answers so that we keep turning the pages to find out. I really enjoy the historical research for my books, too, and I feel a bit spoilt to be able to incorporate such variety in my work as each new book takes me to a different period in history, as well as keeping my main character's own story going in the present. It keeps things fresh for me as an author, and hopefully for the reader, too. I never know where JT's assignments are going to take me next, and I really want to find out.

How does my writing process work?
I think there are probably as many answers to how an author writes as there are authors writing. There are certainly phases within the process, and my working day during each phase varies. When I set out to write a new book, I'm largely sitting (or pacing) around the house and garden and everywhere else I might go, trying to find that 'thing' that I believe will make for a good story - and it can take a long time. This is the phase when I get a few of the larger outstanding jobs around the house done because while I'm sure it sounds great to be sitting around at home, thinking and pottering about, I get bored very quickly, and I find it the most frustrating part of the process because I really don't like not having a story on the go. I worry that my ideas have run dry, and the longer this part of the process takes, the more frustrated I get. You can't make the ideas come, but eventually they do, and then suddenly I'm off and running, wondering what I was so worried about.

Once I have the story, my spirits usually lift as I set about deciding how to write it. Then I'm in the plotting phase. This typically starts out well, full of excitement and with ideas flowing fast and furious. Then a seemingly endless series of questions arise as I ask myself how such-and-such is going to happen, and how on earth JT is going to work that out! I write on a 17" Macbook Pro, in a software application call Scrivener. I find that it really helps me to keep track of everything, from characters and location information, to research notes and all those questions I have to answer. I write copious, rambling plot notes in there, too, and gradually they take shape and then I start on my plot outline. I write this as a series of bullets for the high level plot, showing only the major points of the story, and then gradually within that I build the scenes to a point where I feel I'm ready to start writing. Making a start is important to me because I only really feel like I'm working when I see my word count increase. Story beginnings are definitely the hardest part of the book to write in my opinion. You have the general setting and the characters to create from the ground up - the framework - and you have very little flow within the story. At the beginning, I don't feel I'm in that other, fictional place enough to feel a part of it. This is the reason I don't worry about word count targets for the first 10,000 words or so. I'm just focussed on getting going. The rest will come - hopefully.

Whatever part of the process I'm in, I start my day at 07:30. You might think that's very disciplined of me, but I have to thank Mrs R. for getting me going each morning as I drive her to the train station for her commute into London. I tidy up my emails before I start writing, then I move on to anything else that might otherwise distract me if I don't deal with it first, unless it's something big, in which case it waits until the evening or the weekend. I'm not very good when it comes to working with distractions. I like to fully immerse myself in my fictional world, and the slightest thing can pull me back and break the flow, so I do what I can to minimise potential distractions, and to clear my head. My writing day finishes when I pick Mrs R. up from the station. Then over dinner we'll often talk about new story developments and questions that have arisen. I find this time invaluable, and my wife's input is something I know I could not do without.

Thanks for reading. I hope I've managed to give you some insight into how I write my books.

Who's next?
Next up is Eva Hudson, author of the Ingrid Skyberg FBI thriller series, and the acclaimed political thriller, The Loyal Servant, which won the Lucy Cavendish fiction prize and was  shortlisted for ITV's People's Novelist Award - you can see Eva face the panel with Alan Titchmarsh in the video on her website.

Here's a link to Eva's blog so you can follow the tour and find out how other writers write.