Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Wayback Machine ;-)

TheHistoryQuizIt’s September, so young people everywhere are back in school for Fall or Spring classes, including History class. And that’s put me in mind of…

…a quiz!!! Don’t even start! I’m not the one who brought you to this blog today, am I? Hmmm??? ;-)


Have you ever wished you could just go back in time? The great thing about crime fiction is that it lets you. And as a dedicated crime fiction fan, you know all of your historical novels and authors, don’t you? Or do you? Take this handy quiz and find out. Match each question with the correct answer. At the end of the quiz, submit your answers to see how well you have done. You can also go through your answers and see which ones you got correct.


Ready? Join Mr. Peabody and Sherman in the Wayback Machine… if you dare… ;-)




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How is the World Treating You?*

UpdatesI’m very proud and honoured that crime writer Sue Coletta has been kind enough to give Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… this fabulous One Lovely Blog Award!

Isn’t it lovely?


Sue is the author of A Strangled Rose, Timber Point and Silent Betrayal. She’s also the author of a number of short stories and a member of Sisters in Crime. Her blog’s got all sorts of interesting information on crime fiction, writing in general, and real-life stories and facts to support crime writing research. You don’t want to miss that blog, so check it out.

Now, this award comes with a request to share seven things about myself. I could tell you everything about me, but then, well… ;-)

So instead, here are a few updates on what I’m doing with my writing, my work and my reading:

  • It Took Me Years to Write, Will You Take a Look (The Beatles (from Paperback Writer)) – I’m still working on getting the third novel in my Joel Williams series published. If you’re a writer, you’ll grok (I can’t help it; I love that word!) what it’s like to send your work out, have it rejected, review it, and send it out again. In the meantime…

  • I Look and I Write My Book (Billy Joel (from Blonde Over Blue)) – I’m working on another novel, not in the Joel Williams series. I’m not sure if it will ever go beyond standalone, which it is for now, but who knows? It’s a sort of police procedural that takes place in one of Philadelphia’s suburban communities. I’m also revising the 4th Joel Williams novel.

  • Money, It’s a Hit (Pink Floyd (from Money)) – I’ve had an article on marketing for fiction authors published in the Journal of Marketing and Management. I’m quite chuffed about that; it’s a fine journal and the business side of writing is one of those things that authors don’t always like to think about…but should.

  • Get Into a Car and Drive (Joe Jackson (from Steppin’ Out)) – I’ll be presenting at the Clute Institute’s 2014 International Education Conference (5-8 October) in Las Vegas. My topic will be integrating crime and mystery fiction into the educational content areas. Shortly after that…

  • I’m Leavin’ on a Jet Plane (John Denver (from Leavin’ on a Jet Plane)) – This time, I’ll be heading to Denver where I’ll be presenting at the 44th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning (15-18 October). There I’ll be giving a workshop on using crime and mystery fiction to support students’ writing development.

  • I’m Just Beginning to See (The Moody Blues (from Tuesday Afternoon)) – I’ve just started reading Kate Rhodes’ Crossbones Yard. We’ll be discussing that novel in the Online Crime Book Club, moderated by Rebecca Bradley. The club meets Wednesday 15 October, 8pm GMT. You’re welcome to hang with the cool kids and join us!

  • You Probably Don’t Want to Hear Advice From Someone Else (Billy Joel (from You’re Only Human (Second Wind))) – …but I’m going to give it to you anyway. I’ve recently finished reading David Whish-Wilson’s Zero at the Bone (it took me far too long to get to it!!). My advice? Read it. It’s the second in his Frank Swann series that takes place in late-1970’s Perth, and in my opinion, it’s terrific. It’s a gritty, sometimes very hard-edged story with lots of well-drawn atmosphere and fine characters. Do yourself a favour if you haven’t and read the first Frank Swann novel Line of Sight, too.

So there you have it. Seven things going on in my life at the moment. I’m supposed to pass along this award to other bloggers, but the fact is, I love all of the blogs I visit. So instead, here’s what I’ll do. You see that blog roll on my sidebar? Yes, that one. Choose some that you’ve never visited, or haven’t visited in a while. Go say, ‘Hello.’ Tell ‘em Margot sent you.

Thank you, Sue!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Haggart and Johnny Burke’s What’s New?


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I’d Like to Know What You’ve Learned*

ChildrenreadingRay Bradbury is said to have made this observation:

‘You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.’

If you think about it, that quote makes some sense. No matter how many truly fine books there are available, if people don’t read them, they have no impact.

I’m quite sure I don’t have to convince you of the value and the joy in reading. After all, I don’t think I’m the only one who has a staggering TBR list (and no, you don’t get to know how many books are on mine. So there. ;-) ). The real challenge is passing on that love of books to future generations.

And it’s not just teaching decoding skills either. It’s not even teaching skills like identifying characters, remembering information and the like, as important as they are. It’s thinking about the ideas in books. It’s making sense of them, sifting through them and comparing them critically with what one knows and what one’s read elsewhere. And ideally, it’s teaching young people about the worth of reading.

How do you do that? I think each of us has a different approach to sharing our love of reading with our children and grandchildren. And in a lot of ways, anything you do to promote reading is a step towards creating future generations of interested, engaged readers. Here are just a few things that research has shown can really promote not just surface-level literacy, but critical literacy. If they help you too, that’s even better.

A Print-Rich Environment

Just telling young people they should read isn’t enough. But you knew that. Young readers also benefit from having lots of things around that they can read. And the more variety, the better. That’s how young people decide what to think about the world as it appears in print. And that’s how they decide what’s to their taste and what is not. In other words, they learn to think critically as they read.

Now, not everyone agrees with me on this next point, but I think it can also benefit young readers to be exposed to books that are a little challenging for them. By that I don’t mean books that are too mature in terms of their themes (that’s especially true for very young readers). Rather, I mean books where it takes just a little work to understand some of the words and follow the plot. If young readers have access to some books that are easy for them, they gain confidence. If they also have access to books that are a bit challenging, they develop their reading skills so as to meet that challenge. And they get the very important message that the adults in their lives respect them enough to trust they can master those books.

So far so good, right? You can order books online, go to the library, take children to bookstores, etc.. But what if it’s not that easy? What about children from families who simply cannot afford books? There are millions of families in that situation. You can also help the next generation by supporting those readers too. Donate to libraries and book-buying fundraisers and support their efforts. There are also many fine charities and other groups that are devoted to providing books to families who cannot afford them. There’s Australia’s Books in Homes, New Zealand’s Duffy and the UK’s Book Aid International. There’s also the US’ Reading is Fundamental (RIF) and Canada’s Indigo – Love of Reading Foundation. And that’s only the beginning. It doesn’t take much effort to find a meaningful way to donate your books or your time and money to bring reading to children.

Reading Models

Research shows conclusively (well, at least I’m convinced) that adults who read with and in front of their children tend to raise readers. Children are better than we sometimes like to think at working out what we say versus what we really believe. They’re most convinced that wide reading is important if they see the adults in their lives reading too.

This is only enhanced when the adults talk about what they’re reading, and that includes difficulties they may have with a given book or writing style. It’s good for young people to see their adult models use strategies to understand what they’re reading and to critically evaluate it. That’s one way children learn to use those strategies themselves.

Talking about books is therefore just as important as having young people see us read. That’s how young people learn the rich pleasure one can get from discussing characters and events in books. It’s also how they learn that there’s nothing wrong at all with having difficulty reading something. There’s nothing wrong at all in making reading mistakes too (e.g. a character’s name or what a clue in a mystery means, or an author’s intent).

Oh, and one more note is in order here. ‘Talking about books’ also means, at least for me, listening. I don’t think anyone likes to be lectured to during a conversation. But it’s hard sometimes for adults not to dominate a discussion; it’s the role we often take. Asking about what a young person is reading, and then being quiet and listening to the answers can be very helpful as children and teens make sense of their books. So can respecting children’s responses to what they read. It can be difficult for instance if your child or grandchild really dislikes a book you remember adoring. But respecting that view, even as you share your own, helps encourage reading.


The thing is, children are tasked with reading a lot of things, especially in school, because they are required to do so. And it’s not always a bad thing to challenge young people to read something they don’t think they will enjoy. Sometimes those requirements mean they discover a new author or book to love.

But the problem is that with no choice at all, reading becomes a chore – a burden. It’s not fun if you have to do it and you have no say. When young readers have lots of options available to them, and they get to decide which option to choose, they’re more likely to be engaged in reading. To add to this, research suggests strongly that we find it easier to remember something if we have a personal interest in it. Don’t believe me? I’ll bet you found it lots easier to learn by heart the telephone number of your first love than the telephone number of, say, a local shop.

But back to books. Letting children choose what to read, even if you don’t think their choices are interesting, helps them learn to make wise choices. It helps them make a personal investment in reading and thinking about what they read. And it’s an important message that they are respected. Of course very young readers benefit from the guidance of adults. But the more choices young people have in what they read, the more likely they are to find their ‘reading niche.’


Going along with choice is the use of technology for reading. For a lot of people, there’s nothing at all like the feeling of a paper book – the old-fashioned kind – as you open it and turn the pages. And that ‘new book’ smell? Delicious!

But the fact is, reading is available in lots of different formats. There are e-readers, audio books and podcasts, just to name a few. Those formats are no less legitimate. And they can hook a young reader on books in ways that perhaps a paper book won’t…at least at first.

Why? Studies show (and this makes intuitive sense) that we learn and know differently. We all are ‘smart’ in different ways. Why shouldn’t our reading vary too? If a young reader enjoys listening to books, why not? Or reading them online – why not? This isn’t to say that young people shouldn’t know how to read print in a paper book. That’s an essential. But integrating technology opens up a whole new way of experiencing books, and it might just be the way that gets a young reader to come back for more.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned specific titles or authors here. That’s because teaching children to become avid, critical, reflective readers doesn’t depend on one or a few authors, or one or a few books. It’s a way of thinking.

I’d love your thoughts on this issue. How have you shared your love of reading and your skill at reading critically with the young readers in your life?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Neil Young’s I Am a Child.


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Do You Speak ‘Crime Writer?’

speaking crime writingSo you’ve made friends with a crime writer. Or perhaps you work with one. You may even have chosen a crime writer as your partner. Well, I think that’s wonderful. Crime writers need social circles too, after all. How else are we supposed to be inspired for our next – ahem – adventure? ;-)

The thing is, though, that crime writers speak a unique kind of language. If you don’t understand that language, it can be difficult to know what a crime writer really means and respond appropriately. So, ever civic-minded, I’m here to help you. Here is your very own handy

Guide to Speaking ‘Crime Writer’


‘Crime Writer’ Language


‘I’ll be right there.’

‘I’ll be there as soon as I finish this scene. And check out those sites on poisons. And…..’

‘I really ought to do some shopping.’

‘We’re out of chocolate?! How can we be out of chocolate? What?! And coffee too?’

[substitute your snack and beverage of choice]

‘Thanks for telling me that.’

[After someone tells you
how much better s/he'd have
done at writing your book]

‘You will be the victim in my next story. It will not be pretty.’

‘Don’t worry. I’ll make dinner.’

‘Where’s the menu for that Chinese place that delivers?’

‘I write crime fiction.’

‘Please ask about my books. Better yet, buy them.’

‘Oh, let’s stop and check this out.’

‘Oh, this is the perfect place to dump a body!’

‘Sure! It sounds like fun.’

‘There’ll be at least a few people there who would make great suspects.’

‘Wow! That building is cool!’

‘I wonder how hard it’d be to push someone off it.’

‘Mind if I have a look?’

‘This would make such a great weapon!!’

‘No thanks, just browsing.’

‘That guy over there! That’s my killer!’


And no worries if that writer in your life is a romance, sci-fi or other writer. These translations can be easily adjusted.

So there you have it. The perfect way to learn how to communicate effectively with the crime writer in your life. I sincerely hope this is helpful. We crime writers really are nice people. All it takes is a little understanding.

Fellow crime writers, got any additions?

Happy Weekend!


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Crime Fiction News Break


Links You’ll Want


Agatha Raisin and the Blood of an Englishman

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death on Sky TV

Elena Forbes

2014 Ngaio Marsh Award Winner

2014 Ned Kelly Award Winners


Left Coast Crime

Crime Book Club

Rebecca Bradley


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