Category Archives: News

Fall Down Dead – Stephen Booth


Readers of crime fiction can’t resist a good location for a murder. Colin Dexter’s Oxford, Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh, Ann Cleeves’ Shetland… there’s a long list of areas that people not only love to read about, but want to visit and see for themselves.

I’ve been writing about the Derbyshire Peak District for two decades now – ‘Black Dog’, the first novel featuring my police detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, was written 20 years ago, and there have been seventeen other novels in the series since. I’ve found endless inspiration in the landscape and history of an area bursting with atmospheric locations.

Over the course of 18 books, I’ve managed to create quite a detailed fictional version of Derbyshire. I think of it as a parallel universe, with a lot of similarities to the real world, but a few differences too.

What I find magical is the willingness of readers to enter into this imaginary world. I created the fictional Peak District town of Edendale for my detectives to operate from, based on several real towns I know. This gives it a sense of familiarity – so much so that a reader once wrote to me to say: “It’s years since I was there, but I do know Edendale very well.” Quite an achievement, since it really only exists in my imagination!

I soon became aware how important the setting is. Every time a new Cooper & Fry novel is published, dedicated readers will head out into the Peak District to find every location I’ve mentioned, including the fictional ones.

Apart from Edendale itself, I try to use real, identifiable places as far as possible. Since Ben Cooper was promoted to detective inspector, he’s moved out of his old flat and bought a house in the real-life village of Foolow. Readers knew they couldn’t find the street Ben lived on in Edendale, but now they can go and sit on Foolow village green and try to work out which is his house (I might have to apologise to the residents of Foolow for that one day!).

This means readers can go and explore the landscape for themselves. But I hope they take notice of how many deaths there are in my books, because this can be a dangerous place…

My latest Cooper and Fry novel ‘Fall Down Dead’ is set around one of the most iconic locations in the High Peak, the mountain of Kinder Scout. This is a strange, alien landscape of bleak peat moors which has proved treacherous for many unsuspecting visitors. It was also the scene of the Kinder Mass Trespass in 1932, an act of civil disobedience which led to the countryside access we now take for granted, and the creation of our national parks.

In ‘Fall Down Dead’, a group of walkers marking the anniversary of the trespass get lost when fog descends and stray too close to the edge of a famous waterfall, the Kinder Downfall. One of the walkers doesn’t make it back down from Kinder alive – creating a difficult case for DI Cooper and his team to investigate, with no forensic evidence and only unreliable witnesses among the rest of the walking group.

An area like the Peak District, with its dangerous beauty and sinister history, will always be an inspiration for me. And I think it will always be irresistible for readers too. But please venture onto Kinder Scout with care, and preferably in good weather!

Blood on the Stone – Jake Lynch

Imagine a country divided, with the political atmosphere soured by increasingly bitter enmities and rivalries. Street demonstrations threaten to turn violent, and propaganda is reaching fever pitch.

Perhaps that’s not too much of a stretch from our present situation. As I write this, the forthcoming European elections seem set to turn as rancorous as any in living memory.

In the setting for my novel, Blood on the Stone, a murder mystery of the Restoration, the system of political parties was just emerging. Politicians stood as supporters of either Court or Country – the latter becoming known as ‘Whigs’.

My hero, Luke Sandys, is Chief Officer of the Oxford Bailiffs, holding the ancient office of constable: the nearest contemporary equivalent of a modern-day detective. King Charles II brings the English Parliament to the city, and a prominent MP is found stabbed to death. Investigating the murder, Luke must pursue the truth in the face of determined efforts by powerful interests to apportion blame, and take the law into their own hands.

The seventeenth century was one of the most tumultuous in our history, of course: riven by economic and political upheaval, including the civil war. It also saw the rapid development of ideas, notably the ‘Scientific Revolution’, touched off by the ‘heliocentric’ theory of Nicolaus Copernicus (the earth orbiting the sun, not the other way around). Oxford became a crucible of scientific discovery, with its ‘Natural Philosophy circle’ of the 1650s giving rise to the formation of the Royal Society.

The essentials of scientific method quickly caught on, leading to demands for other domains to meet the same standards. It’s no coincidence that the divine right of kings to rule – a mystical and, by definition, unproveable claim – was discarded in England shortly after publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica in 1687.

By then, Charles was dead, and his Roman Catholic brother, James II, would shortly vacate the throne as the nobility turned against him. In the background of Blood on the Stone is the so-called Exclusion Crisis, as the House of Commons sought to prevent James from succeeding; and the ‘Popish Plot’, supposedly a Jesuit conspiracy against the sovereign. It was later exposed as fraudulent, but not before it led to a renewed crackdown against England’s remaining ‘Papists’.

In writing a detective novel set in the English Restoration, I join a growing sub-genre of recently published fiction. High on my To-Be-Read list at the moment are the latest Challoner mystery by Susanna Gregory, and The King’s Evil, Andrew Taylor’s third whodunnit set in a London recovering from the Great Fire.

In all of them, we see the struggle being waged to establish evidence, logical deduction and due process, as the basis not only for solving crimes but also, implicitly, engaging with the world and organising it to the greatest human benefit.

For much of my adult life, I took it for granted that that struggle had been definitively won. Entering the profession of journalism, my remit was to find out and report the facts. It brought me to a rewarding spell at Tyne Tees TV, as a presenter and reporter on the Network North regional news programme, from Belasis.

Now, however, the line separating facts from claims feels increasingly challenged, in news and science alike. Climate change deniers; anti-vaxxers; the proliferation of partisan channels on social media: all have become wearisomely familiar features of our public sphere.

So perhaps there is something comforting – even thrilling – in stories that lead the reader on a dance around that line, before finally resolving the outstanding questions on either side of it. For such a drama to occur in an historical period when it was first being drawn, sometimes in the teeth of fierce opposition, might even redouble the satisfaction.

Thank you, the competition is now closed and my work here is done

Hello Everyone,

Well, here we are firmly in autumn and, while thoughts turn to darker nights and shops start to stock Christmas goodies, many of you are probably just/still recovering from the hard work of getting your competition entries in before the deadline.

The competition is now closed and my work here is done. All that is left is for me to say a massive thank you to everyone who got involved, either through attending the workshops and mentoring or through submitting to the competition. This new Crossing the Tees project has been a massive success, thanks to all of you. It has been wonderful to meet so many talented local writers and help you on your writing journeys. Hopefully many of you will be inspired to keep writing in the future and I will see you again, perhaps during the 2018 Crossing the Tees, which is in the planning stages already.

We hope to be able to announce the shortlist some time in November so do watch out for that thrilling little list!

I wish you all the very best with both your entries and your writing.


It’s almost time to say goodbye, but first, some editing tips…

Hello Everyone,

My penultimate post so time to remind you all once again about the looming deadline of the 30th Sept and to urge you to not leave submitting your entries until the last minute – just in case there are any technical issues at either end!

Before you do send off you work you might just want to cast one final eye over your precious baby and make sure there isn’t a soft downy lock out of place on its head by considering the following advice on editing:

*   Adverbs and adjectives –  do you really need them?  Can you use better/more powerful nouns and verbs that mean you can do without the adverbs and adjectives?

*   Modifiers – very, really, rather etc. do you really need them?

*   Metaphors and similes – use them sparingly and avoid extended pieces of imagery that are overly poetic and not moving the story on.

*   Speech tags – often you can do without them, especially if it is a two person dialogue or use action instead to illustrate who is talking.

*   Clichés – usually they can just simply go.  If you are really saying something with them you will need to think of an original turn of phrase to replace them.

*   Repetition – don’t be tempted to repeat yourself by showing something then telling it as well.  Trust the reader will understand the first time.

*   Dialogue – often this can be pruned.  Remember not to go overboard with making it imitate real speech.

*   Actions – you don’t have to show every single movement e.g. getting up, opening the door, walking through it, closing it behind you, getting out a key, locking the door, walking down the drive, unlocking the car, getting into the car, fastening the seatbelt etc.

*   Detail – important but better to be specific with one or two things that show every single detail e.g. when describing a room.  Be selective and only mention things that are important to the story like a gun on the table but not a plant on the windowsill (unless is it deadly nightshade and hence the murder weapon)

*   Vary your vocabulary – watch out for repeated words close to each other.

*   He/she – make sure it is clear who is being referred to.

*   Avoid overly long, complex sentences that are confusing to read.

*   Avoid fragments that are not complete sentences.  While this does save words it can make the writing stilted.

*   Don’t use capital letters to indicate when someone is shouting.  J. K. Rowling does it and it is annoying to most readers.

*   Consistency – check that you don’t contradict yourself.

*   Anachronisms – if you are writing a piece with a particular time setting make sure you have researched accurately.

And don’t forget to ‘kill your darlings”!

Yes, editing can be a draining process but it is all part of the work of a writer and probably the part that will make the biggest difference to your chance of having success with a piece.  We can all come up with great ideas but writing is all about the skillful execution of those ideas, finding the “best words in the best order” and really bringing that story to life.  So keep going with it and be honest with yourself about what is working and what isn’t in your writing.

It has been a great pleasure to be part of your writing experiences during Crossing the Tees and I have very much enjoyed reading the entries sent to me for mentoring or hearing the little extracts read out during the writing workshops.  So, as a way of returning the favour, I would like to invite anyone following this blog to join me for the launch of my second novel.

The novel, Herself Alone in Orange Rain, is part two of my Celtic Colours trilogy.  It tells the story of one young woman’s fight for freedom and independence for her homeland and herself.  The launch is Friday, 13th October (hope you aren’t superstitious!), 7pm at Drakes Bookshop, Silver Street, Stockton on Tees.  It’s a free event and there will be free refreshments provided so if you’re at a loose end that night and want the chance to grill me about my writing (put ‘teacher’ in the spotlight for a change) then just drop me a line so I can have an idea of numbers (Drakes is a cosy little shop).

And if you can’t make the Stockton launch never fear – I am also doing ‘An Audience With…’ at The Word, South Shields, Saturday, 4th November, 2-3pm where you will be able to head me read from and talk about parts one and two of my Celtic Colours trilogy.  This is also a free event but you do need to book the The Word’s website.  And I’ll have copies of both books there so it’s a good chance to grab a signed one then, if I become mega famous, you can flog it on Ebay for a fortune!

Hope to see some of you at one or other event.  Next week – the big, tear-jerking goodbye…


Time is ticking…

Hello Everyone,

Now with time running very short indeed and the countdown to the final deadline for entries into dates rather than weeks/months you are probably wondering where all that time went and how you’ve managed to leave things so late.  Well, some of you are while those organised souls sit back and relax, entry submitted and nothing but the nerver-jangling wait for judgement to be upon them.

But don’t despair.  There is still time to polish your pieces and get them into the comp.  To help you with this here are some tips on two aspects of story writing that people often find a challenge – dialogue and descriptions:

Dialogue dos and don’ts

  • Try to find distinctive speech patterns for your characters.
  • Use non-standard spellings to demonstrate accents/pronunciations.
  • Keep speech tags simple (he said) and don’t overuse alternatives (yelled, whispered, cried, exclaimed etc.).  Save these for when you really need them.
  • Don’t use too many adverbs with your speech tags (quietly, loudly, angrily etc.).
  • Think about what real people say to each other e.g. they don’t tell each other things that both parties will already know.
  • Keep passages of dialogue fairly short and intersperse with action/description to maintain reader interest.
  • Don’t let one character speak for too long uninterrupted.  Real conversations don’t work like this.

Doing Descriptions – what to describe

  • Characters – both their physical appearance and personality
  • Places/settings – could include things like furniture/décor, weather, light/darkness etc.
  • Action – what is happening, what characters are doing etc.
  • Speech – how things are said, through speech tags
  • Time – both when your narrative is set and how time passes in the narrative

And how to describe it

  • Imbed description in action
  • Don’t rely too heavily on sight, use all the senses
  • Do use specific details e.g. colour, pattern, size, flavour etc.
  • Don’t overuse similes or adverbs/adjectives especially if they are not needed e.g. he yelled loudly
  • Make sure metaphors are original and avoid clichés like the plague!
  • Avoid lengthy passages of dry description
  • Use occasion brief ‘telling’ for dramatic affect e.g. he was dead

So look back over your stories and see if there are any areas that would benefit from a little reworking.

For those organised souls I mentioned earlier who might, entries sorted, be turning their thoughts to pursuing new writing goals (and for the rest of you once you’ve made those last minute tweaks to your stories) I do offer a mentoring and appraisal service.  So if you would like some input on your writing, feedback on work in progress, help with getting something to a publishable standard or just some personal guidance tailored to whatever stage you are at with your writing just contact me and we can talk over ways forward.

Now back to the keyboard and get those stories finished!


Narrative perspectives and National Novel Writing Month!

Hello Everyone,

Well, we are now into the final big push in the last few weeks before your competition entries need to be in (30TH SEPTEMBER!!!).  But there is still time to get that award winning story polished and perfected.

This week as you move towards a final assault on your writing, I thought it would be helpful to share with you all some tips on narrative perspective.

First all some appoaches to narrative perspective or point of vie (PoV) as it is sometimes called:

Possible Perspectives

  • First person (I/me) – allows the writer to explore the inner thoughts of the character and helps the reader to develop empathy for the character but it does restrict what the writer can show the reader.  Can get round this by having more than one first person narrator e.g. The Sweetest Thing by Fiona Shaw.
  • Second person (you) – this is rare in fiction but very common in persuasive/rhetorical writing like speeches.  It can work well for short fiction but would be difficult to sustain over a longer story.  One advantage of it is it makes the reader a character in the story by addressing them directly.
  • Third person focalised (he/she/they) – a common and popular perspective that allows the writer and reader some distance from the character but maintains a close contact.  Disadvantage is that, like first person, it restricts what the writer can show the reader because the narrative follows only one character e.g. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling.
  • Third person omniscient (all seeing) – more common in Victorian novels.  The perspective is that of a god-like figure looking down, able to go anywhere and see anything.  This frees the writer to show every event of the plot no matter which characters are/are not involved but it prevents the reader from getting close to any one character and can make empathy more difficult e.g. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.

Now all you have to do is work out which is best for your story.  Things to consider are:

  • what are the main plot points of your story
  • which characters are involved in those ‘scenes’
  • what is the story’s time line e.g. are some of these events happening similtaneous?

So if you have several events happening at the same time and involving different characters you will probably be best off with either several narrators or an ‘all seeing’ third person perspective.  If your story is all told through the PoV of one character then first person or third person focalised would work well.

Remember whatever you decided to do with the PoV to consider the following:

  • How closely do you want your reader to empathise with your hero? (this will be important if you have something of an ‘anti-hero’ as a protagonist).
  • How will you be restricted by first or third person focalised perspective?  Will this make structuring your story difficult?
  • Will you need/want more than one narrator?  You are allowed to switch between different narrators and even different perspectives but this must be deliberate, not just arising out of inconsistency.
  • Do you want the reader to experience the story alongside the character?
  • Will dramatic irony be important to the tension of your plot?
  • Are you planning to kill off any of your characters?  There is no reason why you can’t kill off a first person narrator but who will take over the role of narrator?
  • Are you using past tense or present tense?  How does this fit with your PoV?

Although we still have a few more posts to go before I disappear from the blog-sphere I am also going to spend these last few blogs letting you know about opportunities to keep developing your writing beyond Crossing the Tees.

This week I want to let you know about National Novel Writing Month.  This is a great chance for those of you with a novel in you to get in down.  The challenge is to write it in a month.  More information can be found here:
We are particularly lucky in the Tees Valley as there is also a well established support group for people taking part in NNWM so check out their Facebook page at: and get that novel out!

Good luck with your final redraft.  More next time,


Writer Wednesdays at Sixth Element, and planning your plot…

Hello Everyone,

Well, another week has rolled by so here I am again. Most of the workshops are done now and a big thank you to everyone who came along and contributed to what were very enjoyable and rewarding sessions. There is still time to grab one of the few remaining mentoring places (Stockton, Hartlepool and Hemlington have a couple of spots left each) but there are going fast so be quick.

If you’re not lucky enough to get your name down for a one-to-one with me then Sixth Element, our wonderful local publishing house based on the Green in Billingham, are running the following FREE event next week:

Writer Wednesdays at Sixth Element

Wednesday 30th August, 10am to 2pm
Arthur Robinson House, 13-14 The Green, Billingham TS23 1EU
Free. All welcome.

Coffee and chat

10.30am to 11.30am
Free poetry workshop with David Smith
Whether you already write poetry or not, come along for some creative inspiration that will spur on whatever type of writing you’re working on.

11.45am to 12.45pm
Picnic lunch
On the Green if it’s sunny, inside if it rains! We’ll have sandwiches and cake but feel free to bring a little something for the table if you like.

1pm to 2pm
Free short story workshop with Sixth Element
Find out what elements we think make a great short story, whatever genre you write. We’ll have lots of inspiration for the Crossing the Tees short story competition, will take a look at what other competitions you can enter and will have a chat about how writing short stories can help your novel come along leaps and bounds.

To book call 01642 360253 or email and Gillie or Gramae will sort that for you.

This will also be a great chance for those of you who hope one day to see your writing in print to find out about the services 6E offer.

And in keeping with continued writer development here is this week’s input from me on plots:

Story Motors and Quests

These elements of a story help to maintain tension and keep readers interested. They are also how character and plot are intertwined in your narrative.

Quests – What does your character want/need? What are they searching for? There may be one overall quest and/or several smaller ones.

Story motors – The drama (obstacles) among the detail of your story that keeps the story moving forwards. How many story motors you need depends of the length of your story.

The beginning of a story should introduce the problem. The middle will develop the problems, perhaps adding more difficulties and obstacles. The dramatic climax is the crisis point in the story just before everything is resolved. The ending outlines some sort of conclusion, even if it is one that is not neat and finite.


Try to plan out your plot, making notes on:

• what the protagonist’s quest is
• how you will introduce that quest to readers and set the character off on their quest
• what obstacles or difficulties will your protagonist face during their quest
• what will the crisis point or climax of the story be
• how will you resolve the quest

You can do this as notes or is can help to plot (pun intended – hahaha!) it out as a line diagram that rises to the climax. This should help you see if you have too much or too little plot and give your writing a purposeful direction.

Hope this helps.

Keep writing,

Hello Everyone,

Well, time for the latest installment from me.  This week sees us moving towards the end of the workshop sessions and on to the mentoring.  There are still some mentoring spaces available at some of the locations so if you are now beginning to think you might want to have the chance of some one-to-one feedback on your competition entry just ring the library where you would like to have your mentoring and they can let you know what times are available.  And don’t forget that if you are doing some mentoring it is really important that you EMAIL your story to me about a week before your session so I can have chance to read it and type up some comments for us to discuss.  You will get your work returned to you, via email, with these comments to help you with ongoing redrafts etc.  If you can’t do this (or forget to) then you are still very welcome to attend your booked session and we can talk over your ideas more generally with me perhaps reading some crucial scenes in your piece and giving you some feedback during the slot.  If you haven’t had the chance to pick up one of my cards with my email address then you can contact me to email your story through my website

Try Writing

Try Writing is the website of Teesside author Tracey Iceton. As well as including information on her own work Try Writing is a place for aspiring writers.


And on the theme of developing your stories last week I began to post up some of the material from the workshops to help those of you who haven’t been able to attend.  I plan to continue doing this over the remaining blogs (which will continue until the comp. deadline 30TH SEPT!) so this week a little bit more guidance on developing characters and next week something on plotting your story.

Characters can be developed through:

  • What they do
  • What they say
  • Their physical appearance
  • How they contrast with other characters
  • Their mannerism, traits and personality
  • How they fit into the world of the story (contextualisation)
  • Their thoughts, revealed through interior monologue


Remember the golden rule of ‘show, don’t tell’.    Consider these two examples:



He walked with a shuffling movement.  His eyes were half closed in a squint and he looked cruel.  He had yellow teeth that were badly decayed.  His smile was sickening.  His hands were filthy and his breath smelled foul.



He shuffled forwards, squinting wickedly at me.  Drawing back his lips in the most sickening smile, he displayed teeth yellowed with age and neglect.  He extended a filthy paw and grasped my hand.  Leaning forwards as he did so, he sent me reeling with disgust at the foul stink of his breath.


The ‘showing’ example works by keeping the action going while describing the characters.


Now do one of the following writing exercises, making sure you ‘show’:


Write the scene in which your readers first meet your character

Write a short piece of dialogue for your character

Write some interior monologue for your character

Put your character in a difficult situation and write what happens

Write the scene in which your protagonist first meets his/her antagonist


Good luck with this.  Keep writing!


Only 8 weeks until the short story competition deadline!

Hello Everyone,

Yes – it’s time for another post so here I am again.  This past week has been a busy but rewarding one with workshops happening in Hartlepool, Stockton and Saltburn with this coming week promising to be even more jam-packed with creative writing as I add Darlington to that list.

All the groups so far have been absolutely fantastic – full of inspired ideas for their competition entries and offering a great diversity of approaches to the task of writing a story.  I do want, in particular, to mention Saltburn however.

Having been told by the library that they would limit the group size to 10 because of the space I was overwhelmed (joyously so) by the uptake.  Twelve people squeezed themselves in and I know there were another couple of writers who would have liked to participate but couldn’t.  I would never have known, if not for the festival, just what a hotbed of creative writing the small seaside town of Saltburn is.  The scene there is truly alive with three separate writing groups established and running on a regular basis.  I know there is a similar level of interest in creative writing in other areas but so far not the active development of groups so I would encourage all of you writers out there who are hiding away in darkened bedrooms to get together, take a leaf out of the Saltburn writers group guide book (if they haven’t published one they should) and get your groups up and running.

Now, it has suddenly dawned on me that we are less than 8 weeks from the competition deadline.  I know there are probably many of you out there who wanted to be able to attend the sessions but couldn’t because of other commitments, so I thought over the next few blogs I will share with you some of the writing activities that we have been doing in the sessions in place of my usual writing prompt.  This week there is an activity below that you can do to help you create your main character.  Simple answer these questions about him/her:

  • Who are you (name, age, gender, species, etc.)?
  • What are your physical attributes?
  • What are the main traits of your personality?
  • Where do you live?  With who?
  • What work do you do? With who?
  • Who is your best friend and why?
  • Who are your enemies and why?
  • What is your background (backstory)?
  • What do you want in this story?
  • Why do you want it?
  • What is stopping you from achieving what you want?
  • How will you try to achieve what you want?
  • How far are you prepared to go to get what you want?
  • What might stop you from doing this?
  • Who will help you and why?
  • Who will try to stop you and why?


This will help you get to know your character so you can understand what they are doing in the story and why.

More next week!


From a furry friend in Peru, to more writing workshops in Teesside!

Hello Everyone,

Phew! I’m back, made it!  Survived the Inca Trail: four days, three nights (yes, I had to camp!), 45 km, 4200 m above sea level (oh, the air’s thin up there!) and very little of the hiking was on a nice smooth flat surface (think Roseberry Topping x 1000 and you’ll be somewhere close).  But it was exhilarating to have done it and, as you will see from the photo, I made a new friend too.

So now it’s back to reality and, more importantly, back to writing.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be running the workshops at Saltburn, Darlington, Hartlepool and Norton so if you haven’t already booked on them and are hoping to attend please ring the relevant library to secure a place on the workshop(s) of your choice.  Don’t forget that you can attend any session, you don’t have to go to your local one and you can attend different sessions in different places if that suits your best.  Just a quick reminder that session one is on character and plot, session two covers narrative structure and perspective while session three explores writing descriptions and dialogue plus some tips on editing your writing.

I’m sure that many of you are already well underway with your competition entries so feel free to use them as the basis for the activities we will be doing in the workshops.  However, if you are still looking for inspiration then hopefully the workshops will help you generate some ideas.  And of course you can (and should) make the most of any nice weather to get out and about in the Tees Valley to draw inspiration from the places that might well feature in your stories.

And with that advice in mind here is this blog’s writing activity – slightly different to the usual prompt but I hope it will get those imaginations whirring away!

Step 1 – go somewhere (in the Tees Valley) that either you’ve never been to before or haven’t been to for at least 10 years.

Step 2 – find a spot to station yourself (street corner, park bench etc.)

Step 3 – note down: 2 buildings/natural structures nearby, 5 people who pass you, 1 animal you see, the weather, any smells you detect, 2 forms or transport and 1 other random thing

Step 4 – return home and use your notes to create a narrative.  You can tell the story of one the people you observed, or maybe the animal, or one of the forms of transport (the passenger/driver maybe) or even of the building (e.g. what is happening in there that you couldn’t see?)  Use the other notes to vividly recreate the scene and generate some tension and conflict in the narrative.


More soon,