How the Hell Can You Write If You Don’t Read?

Maybe one of you can talk me off the ledge. I was sitting with some of the members of my writing group the other night, and I innocently asked who everyone was reading at the moment. Fully half the people at the table gave me some variation of, “Oh I don’t read much these days,” or “I haven’t read a book since college.”

What in the name of Robert Ludlum is going on? I thought all writers, especially fiction writers, were voracious bookworms. Apparently I”m living in a fool’s paradise. But seriously, how can you write well if you don’t read widely?

I’m not even talking about the “great books.” I know a lot of people who got turned off to older works in college and never came back. But I’m a big believer that reading anything–even the stuff I lovingly (and jokingly) refer to as crap–is invaluable for a writer.

I know this is a thing. A good friend of mine in Chicago has three pretty good novels out in the world and hasn’t read anything written after nineteen sixy- four or has over two hundred pages. It wouldn’t kill him to read a book that isn’t a pulp-detective-crime novel, but hey, I’m not his mom.

I look at genre books as a gateway drug. As a kid, my first introduction to adult work was Classics Illustrated Comics. Frankenstein, Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers were all brought into my world in inked panels. From there it was an easy step to the real thing.

Reading my dad’s cold-war spy novels like Ludlum and Van Lustbader (which nobody will ever confuse with great literature, but they amused the hell out of me and if you talk smack about them I’ll fight you) led me to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

As an adult my reading, especially fiction, slacked off. But when I decided to try writing stories again, beginning with Count of the Sahara, I went back to school

First stop was Esquire’s list of 80 Books Every Man Should Read. While I’d read a fair number of them already, I worked my way through the list. Some, like Winters Tale, I never expected to like but I loved and learned a ton about descriptive writing. (I wish I loved my wife, my daughter or the Blackhawks as much as Mark Helprin loves New York City, just saying.)

Some of those books I hated and swore never to inflict writing like that on a reader, which is a valuable lesson.

Then I started reading genres I haven’t really read before. Nobody believes me that I’m now a sucker for epic fantasy like Robin Hobb, but there’s actually a lot historical fiction writers can learn about world-building from fantasy writers. It’s also, you know, fun. Nothing wrong with that. And a lot of those folks can write circles around more respected literary authors.

Lately, I’ve been challenging myself to read writers from other countries in translation. I am a sucker for Spanish authors like Arturo Perez-Reverte and Carlos Ruiz Zafon as well as the Cuban Leonardo Padura. The Korean writer Un-Su Kim’s The Plotters rocked my world.

I’m not a snob, I”m just trying to learn my craft from people more successful than I. It was the same doing standup. If a newbie on an amateur night couldn’t go further back than Pryor or Carlin, I didn’t think they were serious. If they could talk Jack Benny, Fred Allen and Alan King, we could hang.

Film and TV are great ways to learn plot, pacing, and action, but writing–fiction writing–is a very specific and demanding art.

There’s be no Count of the Sahara without Rafael Sabatini, and no Acre’s Orphans without Kipling.

What do you all think? Am I wrong? Am I just an old geezer and this is the literary version of “get off my lawn?” Talk me off the ledge!

Acre’s Orphans is an Indie B.R.A.G Medallion winner

So, my little third-born Acre’s Orphans has received another honor. Indie B.R.A.G has given it their award for excellence.

Their committee of readers had some nice things to say, but this killed me:

Wow! The last book I reviewed for BRAG I wanted a rating below “Yes” but above “No”. This time I want a rating above”yes”.
Like maybe “bound to be a classic like Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer or Kim.” There should be an award above a simple
BRAG medallion, like maybe “A Double B.R.A.G. Medallion” or maybe “No! I won’t turn out the light until I finish reading this!”
which my wife got tired of hearing the last three nights. I usually complain loud and long about first-person books, as they
make the main characters too narcissistic and the other characters too shallow. Ten-year-olds KNOW the world revolves
around them, especially when they know how to successfully play the “poor but cute orphan” face. First-person is perfect for
the “son of fleas”. Perhaps it is his training as an observer/spy (like Kim in Rudyard Kipling’s stories) that allows him to flesh
out the characters around him. The momentous events of history seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old put some of those
legendary people in their appropriate places. I look forward to reading the first book to get Lucca’s take on the Hattin debacle,
which is one of my favorite times in history to have NOT been there. This is one of the few books I wish I had written. Maybe if
I write until I die, my last book will approach the quality of “Acre’s Orphans”.

Reviewer, Indie BRAG

I’m honored and humbled (shut up! I can be humble if I have to!) at the love the book is receiving. Go check it out already…

Join me August 4th at Dime Grinds

One of the first Las Vegas literary events I found out about when I moved here was Dime Grinds. The first Sunday of every month the Henderson Writers Group has three writers talk about their books, read, and introduce themselves to an always-packed group of readers and authors. Now it’s my turn.

On Sunday, August 4th, I’ll be reading from Acre’s Orphans, along with Steven Murray and Susan Johnson. Get a cup of regular coffee for a dime, hang out with the local writing community and have some fun.

Joe Maxx ( our local hangout, better than Starbucks) Coffee supports this fun event. 500 E. Windmill Ln, #175 at the corner of Windmill and Bermuda. Come visit.

I’m On the Radio- The Internet is the Author’s Friend

Most of you probably don’t know what little formal education I do have consists of an Associates degree in Broadcast Journalism from BCIT. I love the medium of radio. I was recently interviewed for the Aspects of Writing radio program. The topic was: The Internet is the Author’s Friend. Lord knows it’s mine…

Listen to the show here:

In this wide-ranging and somewhat insane interview we cover doing research for historical fiction, getting the word out about your book, why dinosaurs changed my life, and how the internet is both a frightening time suck and the best way for indie authors to network and share their work with a readership.

Thanks to James Kelly and Joyce Kaye Gatschenberger for letting me ramble.

The Most Interesting Period in History? Catherine Kullmann and the Duke’s Regret

Certain periods in history are more interesting to us than others. Depending on where your family’s from, your feelings about the events in question, and what country you live in, your mileage may vary. For example, World War 1 into the Russian Revolution, the Renaissance in Florence, and The Crusades are more interesting to me than the US Civil War (1.0) or the War of the Roses.

Enter Catherine Kullmann and her novel, The Duke’s Regret. She thinks what is known as “The Regency” in Britain qualifies… let’s see why.

What’s your deal Catherine?

  • I am Irish, married (for forty-five years), a mother (three sons) and a grandmother (one granddaughter, one grandson).
  • I love travelling, meeting people, good food and drink,  classical music, especially opera
  • I prefer radio and live theatre to cinema and tv
  • I cannot live without books or tea
  • I am fascinated by history and love visiting historic sites and buildings of any period.
  • I write novels set in England in the extended Regency Period from 1795 (when the later Prince Regent married to 1830 (when he died as King George IV)

Look at you, all organized with bullet points. What’s The Duke’s Regret about?

Some characters slip into your books unplanned and unheralded only to play a pivotal role in the story. So it was with Flora, the young Duchess of Gracechurch in The Murmur of Masks and later in Perception & Illusion. Flora own story revealed itself slowly. A devoted mother who befriends young wives whose husbands are ‘distant’, it becomes clear that the relationship between her and her husband Jeffrey is also distant.

They married at a young age, she not yet seventeen and he some years older. In 1815, at the end of The Murmur of Masks, both are in their thirties with many years of life ahead of them. I began to wonder what would happen if one of them wanted to change their marriage. This led to my new novel, The Duke’s Regret.

A duke can demand anything—except his wife’s love.

A chance meeting with a bereaved father makes Jeffrey, Duke of Gracechurch realise how hollow his own marriage and family life are. Persuaded to marry at a young age, he and his Duchess, Flora, live largely separate lives. Now he is determined to make amends to his wife and children and forge new relationships with them.

Flora is appalled by her husband’s suggestion. Her thoughts already turn to the future, when the children will have gone their own ways. Divorce would be out of the question, she knows, as she would be ruined socially, but a separation might be possible and perhaps even a discreet liaison. Can Jeffrey convince his wife that his change of heart is sincere and break down the barriers between them? Flora must decide if she will hazard her heart and her hard won peace of mind when the prize is an unforeseen happiness.

The Duke’s Regret contains spoilers for The Murmur of Masks and Perception & Illusion. So as not to mislead readers, I have therefore combined them in The Duchess of Gracechurch Trilogy. All three books are available as eBooks and paperbacks.

You are obsessed with this time period. What gives?

It is the beginning of our modern society. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1800, the Anglo-American war of 1812 and the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 are all events that still shape today’s world. At the same time, the ruling aristocracies were being challenged by those who saw the need for social and political reform, while the industrial revolution which led to the transfer of wealth to the manufacturing and merchant classes was underway. Women, who had few or no rights in a patriarchal society had begun to raise their voices, demanding equality and emancipation.

Following the collapse of the Treaty of Amiens in 1803, the United Kingdom was at war with Napoleonic France until 1815. Unlike other combatants in this long war, Britain was spared the havoc wrought by an invading army and did not suffer under an army of occupation. War was something that happened elsewhere, far away. For twelve long years, ships carrying fathers, husbands, sons and brothers sailed over the horizon and disappeared. Over three hundred thousand men did not return, dying of wounds, accidents and illness. What did this mean for those left behind without any news apart from that provided in the official dispatches published in the Gazette and what little was contained in intermittent private letters?

The question would not leave me and it is against this background of an off-stage war that I have set my novels. How long did it take, I wondered, for word of those three hundred thousand deaths to reach the bereaved families? How did the widows and orphans survive? What might happen to a girl whose father and brother were ‘somewhere at sea’ if her mother died suddenly and she was left homeless?

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

It’s hard to say. I love this one, where Jeffrey is accepted by his nine-year-old daughter Tabitha. Up to now, Tabitha has addressed him formally as ‘Your Grace’ or ‘sir’

Tabitha raised her rope again. “I’m going to see if I can skip thirty times without stopping.”

“That will take a lot of breath. Would it help if I count for you?” Gracechurch asked.

Yes, please, Pap—” She broke off, biting her lip.

He squatted in front of her so that she could look into his eyes. “Papa? Would you like to call me Papa?”

She nodded vigorously.

“I should be happy if you did. I am your Papa, am I not?”

She threw her arms around his neck. “Now you are my Papa. Before you weren’t, not really.”

He rose to his feet as he hugged her back. “Then I am sorry for it. Will you forgive me?”

She nodded again and he kissed her cheek before setting her down carefully. She smiled brilliantly at him, then picked up her rope and held it in the starting position.

“Are you ready? Off you go!”

Where can we learn more about you and your work?

Thank you for hosting me and for your interest in my writing. You can find out more about me and my books at

Website: https://www.catherinekullmann.com

Facebook: fb.me/catherinekullmannauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CKullmannAuthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15549457.Catherine_Kullmann?

Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Catherine-Kullmann/e/B01IW3F4MA?

Amazon.co.uk https://www.amazon.co.uk/Catherine-Kullmann/e/B01IW3F4MA/re

We interrupt Mike’s interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

The US Civil War Through British Eyes- John Holt

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that one of my least favorite periods to read about is the American Civil War. (Or, as it will be known in the future, Civil War 1.0) The reasons are long and boring, and will annoy perfectly nice people, so I won’t go into them. I am always interested in the outsider’s view of any historical event, so when I found an Englishman with a fascination for the “war between the states,” I was willing to suck it up and learn more. John Holt’s latest book is “The Thackery Journal.”

What’s your deal, John?

I was born in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, during World War 2. Clearly the world had a lot to contend with at that time, so my coming offered some welcome relief. Whether I had a major influence, or it was pure coincidence, I shall never know, but the war ended shortly after my birth. I have always been a half glass full kind of person, and I’m quite positive in my approach to life. I was brought up on a diet of Rock ‘n’ roll, and only two TV channels. How did we ever manage I wonder? Programmes like Bilko, and Tony Hancock helped I guess, and probably accounts for my sense of humour. As a youngster I wanted to become a doctor, however there was problem, a major problem. I hated the sight of blood, so eventually I became a land surveyor, and spent 24 years working in local government. I then set up in private practice, carrying out property surveys, and preparing architectural drawings. I guess, like a lot of people I had always wanted to write. In fact for several years I used to write articles for a couple of blues magazines (sadly no longer in operation). But I wanted to write a novel. The opportunity came about in 2005, whilst on holiday in Austria. That was the catalyst that lead to “The Kammersee Affair” published in 2006. It is a story of the search for hidden nazi gold; a story of blackmail, murder and revenge. Over the following years eight more novels, and three novellas, were produced.

I get it. After years of writing articles, scripts and standup, I told myself I’d never be a “real” writer til I did a novel. Sounds like you’ve caught up. What’s The Thackery Journal about?

As the first sounds of gun fire echoed through the land, young men rushed to enlist, to fight for a cause that they believed was right. Shop assistants, bank clerks, farm labourers. All believing that the South would win. Right was on their side, and besides it would all be over by Christmas. 

Two life-long friends enlist on opposite sides of the conflict. Both believing that right was on their side, and both hoping that they would never meet each other on the battlefield. Their lives become inextricably entwined as the war nears its end culminating in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. On the night of April 14th 1865 Lincoln attended a performance at The Ford Theatre, in Washington. A single shot fired by John Wilkes Booth hit the President in the back of the head. He slumped to the floor and died a few hours later without regaining consciousness. Was Booth a lone assassin? Or was he part of a much wider conspiracy? Was he part of something even more sinister? Was he part of a plot hatched by Lincoln’s own generals to replace Lincoln with General Ulysses S. Grant. A plot financed by stolen Confederate gold bullion.

What is it about the story or time period that intrigued you?

I have always been fascinated by the American Civil War. A Civil War is the worst kind of war that there could be. A war that divides the Country and splits communities: a war that puts brother against brother, and father against son.  A war that splits families; and makes enemies of long-time friends. A war where in reality there are no winners. Indeed, a war where there could be no real winners, and where everyone loses something. The effects would be felt long after the war ends.  Could reconciliation and forgiveness really take place? How long would the wounds, mentally and physically, take to heal? Could communities divided by war, be re-united by peace? Even now statues of Confederate Generals are being torn down because of what they are perceived to stand for.

But that in itself is hardly a reason for writing the book. If the truth be known, I never actually considered writing a Civil War novel at all. But sometimes, instead of the author being in command of what he, or she writes, it is the writing itself that takes charge. It will suddenly go in a totally unexpected direction, and you are forced to go with it to see where it leads.

Somewhere along the line I got side-tracked. During my research into “The Kammersee Affair” (a story of hidden gold bullion) I found an item on the internet about a consignment of Confederate gold that had gone missing as the Civil War was coming to an end. The gold had, apparently never been found. I thought perhaps I could make up some kind of a story. The gold had obviously been stolen by someone, and I got to thinking how that person would feel as his pursuers caught up with him. Very quickly I had the makings of a fairly well developed final chapter. That chapter is now the last chapter of “Thackery”, and largely unchanged from when it was first written. It was also obvious that the gold had been stolen for a reason. I wondered what that reason could have been. Then I had an idea.

What’s your favorite (or favourite, if you insist) part of the book?

That’s a difficult one, there are so many. But if I must choose one I think it would be the very last scene of the novel. Oddly enough, it is the one that was written first. Jason Thackery is a hunted man, wounded and alone. His pursuers have tracked him down and are closing in. Thackery is afraid and knows exactly the fate that awaits him. His thoughts turn to the past, to his mother, to his friend, who, even now, is waiting to take him prisoner. There is no escape, no way out. There is no one to save him.

Where can we learn more about you and your work?

Amazon.co.uk – https://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Holt/e/B003ERI7SI/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/John-Holt/e/B003ERI7SI/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/John-Holt-Author-553064201380567/

We interrupt John’s interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

Dream Review for Acre’s Bastard

I know that as a grown-ass man I shouldn’t care about reviews. In my stand-up days I learned that if you believe the good reviews, you also have to believe the bad ones. I recently got one, though, that means an awful lot. Mariah Feria published it in an online magazine that I enjoy (and has published some of my short stories) Storgy.com. Read the whole review here


Acre’s Bastard is certainly an accomplished piece of fiction. Turmel makes it clear that he is not done with this story, and especially not with the characters themselves. 

Mariah Feria, Storgy.com

Truthfully, I wouldn’t have dared write a review like this for myself. She enjoyed the parts of the book I enjoyed (the lepers! She liked the lepers!) and correctly pointed out the weaknesses (Mark Halpern I’m not. Description isn’t my strong suit, but I’m working on it.) Since I am neither related to her nor owe her money that I know of, I’m going to assume she means what she says and that makes me feel good.

The best part, is she told Twitter something that is the highest compliment my work can get: “I don’t usually read historical fiction but may need to reconsider.” Yeah, baby.

If you haven’t yet begun reading about Lucca’s adventures, may I suggest this is a good time to begin. Then don’t stop. Acre’s Orphans picks up the next day… why shouldn’t you?

Acre’s Orphans is a “Discovered Diamond” Award Winner

There aren’t a lot of indie-press awards for historical fiction that carry any cachet. One of the few is Helen Hollick’s “Discovering Diamonds” blog. I’m proud to announce that Acre’s Orphans has won the award.

Acre’s Orphans is an award winner


“These characters breathe life from every page and made me care about what happened to them. I highly recommend this book!”

Kristen McQuinn, Discovered Diamonds reviewer

My thanks to Helen Hollick and her team for supporting independent historical fiction. Blessings upon you all.

Count of the Sahara didn’t win one. Acre’s Bastard got a lovely review but missed the top designation, so a) I might actually be getting better at this book-writing thing, and b) If you haven’t yet read Lucca’s second adventure, what’s stopping you?

You can buy the award-winning (actually multiple award=winning now) Acre’s Orphans here.

Acre’s Orphans is an Award Winner

Just when you wonder if your book is being read, or if people actually enjoy it you get news like this. Pauline Barclay (blessings on her home and camels) and her website Chill With a Book have given my latest baby not one but TWO awards.

Her readers and reviewers have given us the reader award, but I also got her personal stamp of approval. Here’s what they had to say:

The storyline was packed with action and emotion. Well written with characters that brought
the terrible events poignantly to life. There were times when the story had me feeling deeply
sad at the turn of events. I look forward to the next book.

Chill with a Book Awards

They blessed Acre’s Bastard the same way two years ago, so it’s good to know their standards haven’t dropped!

Thank you for this, and if you’re looking for more great indie books to support, check out past winners.

From India to the Blitz- Jane Gill

There is kind of a cottage industry around tales of England during the Second World War. By now we know what to expect–plucky heroines awaiting their men while ducking under furniture as Nazi bombs fall. But Jane Gill has a different kind of tale–of an Anglo-Indian woman who arrives in England just in time for the war to start. “Dance with Fireflies,” is the result.

Jane, tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in the UK to an Anglo-Indian mother and a linguist father who specialised in Russian. Every weekend of my childhood, between Easter to September was spent camping. My siblings and I were left to our own devices to dam streams, collect wood for bonfires and climb trees. The long summer holidays were spent roaming around Europe in our tank-like 1960’s Wolesley, tent in the trunk, ready to pitch up. In my early adult life I became a graphic designer. It was the days of typeset print and spray mount. I loved the world of design and became an Art Director in an Advertising agency. Art Directors were teamed up with copywriters; they did the words, I did the pictures. Never in a million years did I expect to become a writer, I had always been so visual!

So, what’s Dances with Fireflies about?

My debut novel, Dance with Fireflies is based on my Anglo-Indian grandmother. In those days (1930-40’s) letter writing was prevalent. She kept thousands of letters, chits and diaries in a large wooden trunk (which is allegedly cursed…but that’s a whole new story). It’s remarkable that over a span of many decades and continents the ephemera has survived. I took this rich resource and read every letter, every scrap of paper. Some of it was neatly typed but mostly handwritten. It took me two years. Having mapped out the outline of all the nitty gritty information I had gleaned, I sat down and finally put pen to paper. The book starts with her six-week voyage from Bombay to England in 1939. Phyllis had sacrificed her life of privilege in the British Raj in India to live with her new husband’s family in England. She was not the English rose they had hoped for their British Army son and they found it hard to tolerate this high-spirited, solar topee wearing ‘foreigner’.

WW2 adds to Phyllis’s struggle for harmony in a land far from home. She misses the vibrant life of Benares and longs for spice in the bland food and music in her daily life now filled with chores set by her in-laws. As nightly air raids plunge their Devon home into darkness, Phyllis battles to keep her marriage from being sabotaged and her young daughter taken by her manipulative sister-in-law.

Obviously the family connection resonated. What else about that period really intrigued you?

Being born in the sixties, WW2 was only one generation away from me. My father would tell me how they would hide under the stairs when the bombs fell on Nottingham, his parents were terrified but as a boy he found it exciting. My mother would tell me more exotic stories of her days in a boarding school in the Himalayas and living in Karachi at the time of partition (1947). It seemed like the most interesting period to write about…there was so much going on and so much to tell.

With something so personal this is a tough one, but what’s your favorite (or favourite) scene?

One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Phyllis arrives in England and is invited into her mother-in-laws house. It is a small red-brick terrace in Colchester. There is wallpaper on the walls and antimacassars on the chair arms. Phyllis sits in silence on the horsehair sofa and looks about in wonder. The house felt pokey and dark in comparison to the colonial bungalow she had been used to. The pretty English wallpaper would have been devoured by the ants in India. She looked around for a mora (stool) to put her feet on (she needed to raise her feet off the floor in case scorpions, spiders or snakes were lurking). Her new mother-in-law couldn’t fathom out why Phyllis was sitting with her feet hovering in midair! Everything was so new to Phyllis it was a great chapter to write.

What’s next, and where can we learn more about your work?

I have recently completed the sequel to Dance with Fireflies and hope to publish it soon. It is set in India at the time of partition. The dual narrative twists and turns from Bombay to Karachi. The suspense builds as the protagonist is destined to meet a crucial character in the story. I can’t  give too much away!

You can find me on Facebook:

Twitter: @Janegillauthor

My Blog: www.janespentopaper.wordpress.com

Here’s how to find my book on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dance-Fireflies-Jane-Gill/dp/1507880375

And don’t forget to support my work. Acre’s Bastard and Acre’s Orphans available as a 2-book set on Amazon Kindle or one at a time in paperback.