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Walking the Talk – the first in a series

Walking the Talk – the first in a series

As you know, I’m a writer – or I used to be.

But a little while back, I had the idea of making the Writers Workshop (as we once were) into a bigger, sleeker, better Jericho Writers. I wouldn’t say that the idea was a bad one exactly – I’m fantastically proud of the work we do – but it had more of an impact on my writing than I had expected.

Now, and thanks entirely to the incredible team we have at the top of JW, I’m in a position to step back and write some books.

And that means that …

Finally ….

I’m getting very close to …

The release of a new Fiona Griffiths book: THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE WORLD.

Given how long it’s been since the last Fiona book graced the shelves, that feels like a very big ta-daa. It will be the seventh book in the series – and the penultimate one. The next book will be the big, and series finale when all the storylines from the series will finally come together.

I’ve adored writing these books and, if it’s not nuts to say so, I’ve adored knowing Fiona. She and I have enjoyed our time together.

It’s great to be back in the saddle, but I’m also pleased because I’ve never much relished the sight of writing tutors who don’t write. If I offered to teach you carpentry, you’d rightly want to see a table I’d made. If my table was rubbish, you’d draw the obvious conclusion.

So, in the run-up to publication, I want to talk you through different aspects of how I conceived the writing and publishing of the book. The point here is simply to connect these (somewhat theoretical) Friday emails to the (intensely practical) topic of how I actually approach my writing.

We’ll start this week at the very beginning: with the book’s basic elevator pitch. (If you want to remind yourself about my thoughts on that topic, this email is probably the best place to start. It’s the one involving 11 boxes, 2 imps and an owl.)

OK, so what’s the pitch?

Because this is a series novel, it has two pitches: one for the book and one for the series as a whole.

As you know, the pitch for the series is something like:

  • A homicide detective is in recovery from Cotards Syndrome – a genuine condition, in which sufferers believe themselves to be dead.

If that feels too baggy, the pitch works fine like this:

  • A murder detective who used to think she was dead.

I probably prefer the longer version: it’s important that these are not fantasy novels and have no speculative elements. But hey ho, you can choose. I don’t care.

The past novels in this series have sold well and have an established fanbase, so a lot of those readers will buy this book just because they trust me to deliver. But each time I release a new title, completely new readers enter the series, decide they like the book they’ve just read, then start back at the beginning.

In other words: the pitch for the new book matters too. And that pitch goes something like this:

  • A Fiona Griffiths murder mystery set in a secure psychiatric hospital, populated by special forces veterans.

If you put the two pitches together, you get something like this:

  • Murder detective, who used to think she was dead, has to solve a crime originating in a secure psychiatric hospital, populated by special forces veterans.

That’s 25 words long, which is longer than I generally recommend for pitches, but seems acceptable, given that this pitch is explaining both the book and the series.

As you know, I also don’t mind pitches that just collapse into a list of ingredients. With this book, that list runs roughly like this:

  • Homicide detective
  • Used to think she was dead (Cotards)
  • Murder investigation
  • Secure psychiatric hospital
  • 50 special forces veterans as inmates

You only need to assemble that list to notice two things. (1) A secure psychiatric hospital is likely to pose specific and extreme challenges to someone with Fiona’s mental history. (2) The special forces guys are probably quite dangerous and probably don’t much want to be locked up for the rest of their lives.

I hope that you look at that setup and want to know more. And that’s the point of any pitch, right? To prompt further investigation. If you’re a fan of crime novels, I’d hope that this pitch piques your curiosity. If it has, it’s worked.

The Daughters of the Pitch

I’ve written before that the elevator pitch is for the author, and only the author. That’s why my own pitches are notably rough and ready. I don’t really come up with the same formulation any two times in a row. I don’t bother to come up with a line that could sit comfortably on a book cover or a movie poster.

But the pitch has many daughters, and those daughters all need to honour their parentage.

The daughters that any author needs to consider include:

  • Title
  • Book cover
  • Front cover quotes / shout lines
  • Back jacket blurb / Amazon book description
  • Back jacket quotes
  • Query letter [if you’re not agented and want to be]
  • Other marketing material: social media content, social media ads, email content, and so on

All those things need to line up behind the pitch. They can’t be inconsistent with it, and they should do what they can to broadcast it (while at the same time, performing their own specific role.)

If all this sounds a little vague – well, that vagueness is deliberate.


Clearly, no title can cram an entire ingredients list into a few words. If I had to try, it would be something like CRAZY COP IN PSYCHO HOSPITAL DRAMA. That ticks more boxes, but it’s a terrible title. Remember that a title needs to do several things:

  • Work well with the chosen cover design,
  • Be suitable for the genre – that is, appealing to the right group of readers,
  • Honour the elevator pitch.

None of those three things are optional. If you choose a genre-unsuitable title, for example, your book just won’t sell. That’s not a requirement where you can compromise, even a bit.

Likewise, the title really has to work with a cover design: two elements that work in tandem. It’s not uncommon for a cover designer to come up with a brilliant cover, which then prompts a change in the title. This has happened, in fact, with several of my books.

For all these reasons, a title need only hint at the elevator pitch. It’s part of a “first impressions” package, where cover design is the other absolutely key ingredient. (I’ll talk cover design for this book in a later email.)

With this book, I hesitated over the title and, ultimately, was torn between whether to use the word HOSPITAL or HOUSE. I went with the latter, largely because the word ‘hospital’ is arguably misleading. The word conjures up normal hospitals, not a place heaving with hyper-fit special forces soldiers. Also, the word ‘hospital’ somehow pulls the book away from the crime genre: they’re places of healing, not multiple murder, and I want a sense of murder to lie heavy over the book.

Obviously, though, it’s the final phrase which does the work. Those words – THE END OF THE WORLD – allude to a lot of things:

  • To the hospital’s remote location,
  • To murder: for a number of the characters in the book, this story really does bring about the end of the world
  • To Fiona: for her, this case does almost spell the end of the world, because of her mental vulnerability,
  • To the situation of the special forces veterans themselves: when they were sent to this place, and with no prospect of release, their lives were effectively ended.

Now obviously, the words in the title alone don’t convey all that. But there’s a limit to what any title can ever do. And a pitch, remember, is there to prompt further investigation. Nothing more. So if someone is intrigued by the book cover and title combo, all we want them to do next is explore the blurb. That’s where the pitch can start to expand from mere hints to a fuller presentation of what the book offers.

More of all that in another email.

Oh yes, and I did just want to say that the whole Write with Jericho / Feedback Friday thing is being intensely brilliant. We launched the current course as a bit of an experiment but the level of engagement has been just fabulous. We’re going to do more and go bigger. If you’re already a Premium Member, then do get stuck in. If not – well, do think about joining us for our next big course.

Feedback Friday

Write with Jericho Week #5 / Character

If you’ve registered for the course, you’ll already have received the course material.

If you’re a Premium Member and you haven’t registered, you can find the course material here. You can register yourself, for free, to get the same material by email.

If you’re not a Premium Member, and want to be, here’s what you need to do next.

Whether or not you are a Premium Member, I’d love you to participate.

A difficult one this, just because character is something that expands and finds its range over the course of 100,000 words. Trying to find a passage of c. 350 words that does everything in one place is definitely a bit artificial. I’m a decent character-writer myself but would struggle to find a single passage that displayed everything in one place.

That said, here’s the exercise.

Choose a passage of (absolutely max) 350 words, which shows off your character as being fully alive. Some of the questions we’re interested in is whether your character feels:

  • Distinctive (not clichéd)?
  • Lifelike?
  • Multidimensional?
  • In a nest of relationships?
  • In the physical world?
  • Has a full set of emotions?
  • Coherent?
  • Surprising?

Choose ONE passage, to a maximum of 350 words, and share it. Please also include:



Brief context for your passage, including why you like it and what your doubts might be.

Remember always to give feedback on other people’s work while you are there. Can I ask that you offer at least 5 comments on other people’s work? That way, you put out good juju and good juju will surely seek you out.

That’s it from me. Share yours here as a ‘New Discussion’ and include a sensible title, eg: ‘Voice Task, Option X, [Title of your WIP]’. Also, if you’re looking for some top tips to help you search Townhouse better, take a look at this thread.

Til soon.


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