Category Archives: guest blog

Winter Downs: Interview with Jan Edwards

Winter Downs Jan Edwards front coverAnnnnnd, welcome to the next stop in the Winter Downs Blog Tour, celebrating the launch of the ever excellent Jan Edwards’ new book – Winter Downs – a thrilling ride of 1940’s crime fic starring the kick ass Bunch Courtney.   I interrogated Jan to find out more…

Winter Downs is the first in your Bunch Courtney Investigates series – who is Bunch and what can we expect from future books in the series?

Bunch Courtney is a well connected young woman who is set adrift  by the changes that the coming of war has imposed on her, and knows that the life she was brought up to lead will never return. When she stumbles on a murder she discovers a talent and taste for sleuthing as she interacts with the local police force; and with Chief Inspector Wright in particular.

Bunch Courtney Investigates is an open ended series with the next two already mapped out in note form and ideas for at least two more. I am hoping people will love Bunch as much as I do so that I can see her through to D-Day at the very least. After that? It could be fun to take her into peacetime; maybe as a private investigator.

How difficult or easy did you find it to get the flavour of the era, were there any research holes you fell into, and did you find any elements of women’s life in the era that resonated with you?

I do like writing period pieces. I’ve written for a number of Sherlock Holmes anthologies and have a series of diesel punk/cosmic horror tales staged in the early 1930’s and starring Captain Georgianna Forsythe.

Immersing myself in the language and social mores can be a lot of fun, and the research required is jam on the top. I do get lost in seeking out small details. I can spend hours, even days, looking for one tiny fact. It is amazing what comes to light!

The lives of woman of the 20th century are so very different to the 21st.  Bunch, for example, finds herself controlling the farm as the men were gradually absorbed into the war machine, even as early in the war as January 1940, yet still treated as a ‘girl’ by many of the men in traditional positions of power; police, the military, farm manager, even her own family.

I worked for 20 years as a Master Locksmith – the first female ‘practising Master’ working in the UK. I know first hand the frustration of having men (and sometimes women)  peer around me as they ask to speak with the Locksmith, because they just ‘know’ it couldn’t possibly be me… I never whacked any of them with a spanner, though the temptation was there – everyday!

You and fellow writer Misha Herwin regularly appear on 6Towns radio – how did that start, what things do you talk about and where and when can listeners find you?

I think it began with a general call to local writers who may want to guest on the Curtain Call show on 6 Towns Radio   And because we had a series of events to push it somehow morphed into a semi-regular gig. We talk about writing events and our own fiction going into print as well as writing in general.

How has your radio experience impacted your public speaking ability?

I guess it has made me less self-conscious about public speaking, though talking in a studio with just the show hosts present is rather different to sitting in front of a live audience.

You and Misha also regularly organise the 6×6 Writers Café – could you tell us how you started, what it is, where, when, and how people can find out more and/or get involved.

6X6 came about because we were trying to get reading gigs for new local writers but because of library cut backs the slots available were getting very scarce. Poetry does okay for events  but prose not so much. We had heard of a regular event in Birmingham that gives writers a set time to strut their stuff and decided Stoke on Trent could use something similar – 6 writers – 6 minutes.

It’s a quarterly event at City Central Library, Hanley, Stoke on Trent. To take part people can go to the 6X6 blog at and follow the guidelines!

Having been a long time organiser of, and attendee at, Fantasycon and other events, how important are festivals and conventions to the writer at the beginning of the career, and how does this change as their career progresses?

Conventions, conferences, lit, festivals  and events such as 6X6 or Fantasycon are all great opportunities for writers to both network with industry professionals and to find a readership. It’s essential for those starting out and remains true for writers at almost every stage of their career. Yes, when someone reaches the top echelons they will be the main attraction for readings and signings and guesting at conventions etc. but they will still be out there. Not that these things should be seen as purely business, though that is an essential part of the process. I’ve made lifelong friends from going to cons either as organiser, bookseller, author or reader. They are a fun as well as productive part of being a writer.

As a member of the Authors Electric site, how important is being a part of online writer communities and what ones do you recommend?

Blogs such as Authors Electric provide support and encouragement for writers and help to connect them with readers. Having an online presence is an essential part of being an author and popping up in regular slots helps in getting a wider reach  for your profile.

What would I recommend? Authors Electric of course 🙂

You’re in a crime story – are you the detective, the victim, the villain, the red herring or the plucky sidekick?

Detective naturally. Though being the villain could be fun, and the Watson personna has the advantage of being an observer of the action at close quarters.

What are you up to next?

I am on the scripting team for White Witch of Devil’s End, a Dr Who world DVD out this autumn – along with a book of the film. It concerns the life of Olive – the witch who appeared in the Dr Who story The Daemons from the Pertwee Who era.

I have a couple of other projects, but none I can talk about right now!

I should be at Fantasycon in the autumn, and had to make the Theakston Crime festival, but moving house and launching Winter Downs has been more than enough to deal with 🙂

But Winter Downs is the big one this year!  Of course there is Bunch Courtney Investigates: Book Two coming next spring (or sooner).

Thank you for talking to us Jan!

Jan ps 1Jan Edwards is a Sussex-born writer now living in the West Midlands with her husband and obligatory cats. She was a Master Locksmith for 20 years but also tried her hand at bookselling, microfiche photography, livery stable work, motorcycle sales and market gardening. She is a practising Reiki Master. She won a Winchester Slim Volume prize and her short fiction can be found in crime, horror and fantasy anthologies in UK, US and Europe; including The Mammoth Book of Dracula and The Mammoth Book of Moriarty. Jan edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press and Fox Spirit Books, and has written for Dr Who spinoffs with Reel Time Pictures.

Winter Downs is published by Penkhull Press and is available in paperback and kindle editions from Amazon.

Don’t forget to check out the next stops on the Winter Downs blog tour:

jan blog tour

Zen And The Art Of Rebellion: Blake’s 7 and the Awesomeness that was Avon

Today we take a break from the Wicked Women Blogfest to welcome the fabulous Simon Bestwick and celebrate the launch of Hell’s Ditch.  (Buy it! Buy it now!)

simon bestiWhen I was a boy, science fiction and horror on TV were pretty much the same thing to me. Star Trek was fun, but the British stuff was the best. There was Dr Who – then in the classic Tom Baker era and heavily tinged with dark, scary Gothic horror – and another of the shows that shaped my childhood and imbued me with a love of SF, fantasy and horror. Blake’s 7.

Blake’s 7 was set thousands of years in the future, with a galaxy ruled by the evil, fascistic Federation. The hero, Blake (Gareth Thomas), a former freedom fighter framed for molesting children, is sentenced to exile on a prison planet. En route he and several other prisoners break out and gain control of an alien spaceship, the Liberator. Controlled by its sentient computer, Zen, it can outfly and outgun any Federation ship. With this, Blake wages war against the Federation.

Although often derided for low-budget special effects and supernaturally camp costume design, Blake’s 7 was also notable for its darkness and pessimism. That, and its premise of a group of gutsy rebels pitted against a despotic authority, influenced a lot of things I’ve written since – including my current novel, Hell’s Ditch.

Black and white goodies and baddies stuff tends to get old pretty quickly – especially on TV, where the story stretches out across hours of drama. Blake’s 7 avoided that pitfall by giving the characters’ mixed and sometimes conflicting motivations: Cally (Jan Chappell) was a telepathic alien with her own personal vendetta against the Federation. The gentle giant Gan followed out of loyalty to Blake. Ex-space pirate Jenna’s motives were more complex, a blend of fascination with Blake’s idealism and (implicitly) attraction to him. Timid thief Vila (Michael Keating), didn’t really have anywhere else to go. And then, of course, there was the coolest, most complicated character of the lot.

Kerr Avon (played brilliantly by Paul Darrow) is, ironically, the character people tend to remember most from the show. When Gareth Thomas left after the second series, Avon assumed control of the Liberator – although without the complex rivalry-cum-friendship between him and Blake, the series was never quite the same.

Avon was Blake’s apparent antithesis: a cold, brilliant computer expert who’d nearly stolen a fortune from the Federation’s Central Bank. He had no time for idealistic politics, and still less for idealists.

Cynical, ruthless and above all a realist, Avon’s principal goal in life was to acquire plenty of wealth and evade capture. Blake’s crusade was diametrically opposed to that aim, and Avon showed every sign, at times, of actively hating Blake and wanting him dead. Except…

Avon had multiple opportunities to get rid of Blake, but never did. In fact, in one episode, every other crew member has been captured; Avon can operate the ship alone and stands an excellent chance of getting exactly what he’s always wanted. The only thing the Liberator can’t fight off is three Federation ships attacking together. When Zen informs him that three such ships are en route to their position, Avon roars with laughter… and sets off to rescue Blake.

In their last scene together of the second series, Avon snaps at an injured Blake: “Why didn’t you stay in the medical section? Couldn’t you have trusted me just this once?” Blake’s response? “Avon, for what it is worth, I have always trusted you – from the very beginning.”

He’d die before admitting it, but Blake is his friend – the one person he’d ever put himself in danger for. One of the beautiful things about the show is that it’s never stated – there are no big declamatory speeches – but it’s always there. There’s something very British about that.

None of which stopped Avon being ruthless: as Darrow later pointed out, the man in the white hat can’t shoot people in the back, slap women around or perform other morally grimy actions, but the man who walks behind him can. He also had all the best lines:

Avon was a key element in making the Liberator’s crew a hive of conflicting aims and agendas, the polar opposite of Star Trek’s moral certainty and unity of purpose. And he was always there to undercut Blake and ensure he was never an infallible hero in the Captain Kirk mould.

Avon was the best thing about Blake’s 7 for me; there’s a dash of him in the dry, sardonic character of Gevaudan Shoal in Hell’s Ditch. And yes, Helen’s grey-haired, cynical mentor is called Darrow, in a nod to an actor I hugely admire – and the character he created.

simon besti hells ditchSimon Bestwick is the author of Tide Of Souls, The Faceless and Black Mountain. His short fiction has appeared in Black Static and Best Horror Of The Year, and been collected in A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Pictures Of The Dark, Let’s Drink To The Dead and The Condemned. His new novel, Hell’s Ditch, is out now.