Category Archives: novels

Book review – for readers and writers – no.173: Morgen Bailey reviews Holmes: The Darlington Substitution by Melvyn Small

Today’s book review of a novella is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. I no longer take requests for reviews but you’re welcome to send me your book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

Being a writer and editor, I read and review books with both hats. If you’re a writer reading this review and found it useful, do let me know.

Holmes: The Darlington Substitution by Melvyn Small

Synopsis: With Watson’s literary career going from strength to strength, he secures a slot on local radio to publicise his new book.  Uncertain as how to well it went, he is still a little surprised when the recording isn’t broadcast. Although disappointed, he disregards this snub to his confidence as a peculiar but unimportant bend in the path of his literary career.

Sherlock Holmes is not so dismissive. He seizes upon the event, certain that there is more to this rebuff than meets the eye. He grills Watson to the content of his interview, convinced a key fact will reveal all. There is nothing. Watson is sure off that. An investigation ensues that takes Holmes to the end of the known world, a place just near Thirsk.

The Darlington Substitution is a retrospective account, occurring during the same time as the adventures chronicled in Holmes Volume 2. It sees Holmes at the height of his wisecracking, foulmouthed, law disregarding deductive brilliance.

This novella is available in chapter segments via with more information at


Melvyn Small is an author and the founder of Indipenned, a website that champions the work of independent literature. Thus far he has written two books, Holmes Volume 1 and the imaginatively titled follow up Holmes Volume 2 (Subsequently republished by Fahrenheit Press as the Victor Locke Chronicles).

Mel’s perhaps unique spin on Sherlock Holmes, which places the character in a different time, location and section of society, has found fans around the world and is fast becoming a cult classic.  His writing style is pacey and littered with gin-dry humour. It has been described as “hilarious, clever and hugely enjoyable.”  The Darlington Substitution novella is his longest story so far and perhaps his best work to date.


As a crime fan, I love a murder mystery. Although my preference is for contemporary – not a fan of anything before the 1980s (I’m a late sixties baby) – I know the Holmes and Watson stories well enough, albeit from the television more than the written word. As an editor, I’m a tough crowd but was soon won over. During Watson’s first encounter (other than with Holmes), he’s invited to download another author’s book so I knew I was in even more familiar territory.

The swearing near the start might put off the more sensitive of readers but it’s far from indicative of the story or quality of the writing. You don’t have to be a Holmes efficienado but I smiled as there were familiar names (the Twisted Lip pub to name one).

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Posted by on March 8, 2018 in critique, ebooks, novels, review, writing


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Coming tomorrow…

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Posted by on March 7, 2018 in critique, ebooks, events, novels, review, writing


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NaNoWriMo winner… just!

Yes, I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo this month. I should have been telling you all about it but I’ve been SOOOO busy writing, editing (client and this novel – which I don’t normally do but I have a publisher interested so have been mini blitzing as I go along) and having a small semblance of a life.

So anyway, I’ve just finished (not actually finished by I have proper work to do still) at 22.40 this evening with…. <drum roll> 50,0002 words. Yes, I wasn’t kidding when I said just. And to prove it…



Posted by on November 30, 2017 in ideas, NaNoWriMo, novels, writing


Writing Competitions and you… success? near miss? the judge? Let me know!

Hello everyone. I’m Writers’ Forum magazine’s Competitive Edge columnist and I’d love to know whether you have entered any writing competitions (of any type), and have been successful, a runner-up perhaps, or been unsuccessful but have learned from the experience, have advice for other entrants, or maybe you’re a competition judge and have some tips on entering (and funny stories to tell!).

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Morgen’s Email Critique Group

Hello. I know that writers, myself included, need – and appreciate – feedback on our work. By that I don’t mean “Oh yes, that’s great” – although that would be good too. We need to be told where we’re going wrong. I am a freelance editor so it’s my day job to do that but I thought I’d start this critique group so that you could also get feedback from other writers.

The idea is that you submit your writing (max. 2,000 words per submission*) – whenever you like – and I will collate them and send them on to others in the group for them to return to me within two weeks, although the sooner the better) so that I can return it to the original author.

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Posted by on November 3, 2017 in critique, ideas, novels, short stories, writing


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Are you doing NaNoWriMo?

Hello. I’m doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – see again this year and am a tad behind…

Day 1: 814 done, 853 behind.

Day 2: 1,455 done, 1,065 behind.

but the weekend’s coming up and I try not to do any work work at the weekends. I’m not going anywhere other than popping into one of our local bookshops (one of my stockists!) so no excuse to have no only caught up but be storming ahead, ready for work work again on Monday… lots of lovely client editing to do.

So, are you doing NaNoWriMo? Are you, unlike me, starting something new, or, like me, continuing a work in progress. In my case, I started it back in April 2014 and had only done 22,324 words since then, much to my frustration. Which is why I need NaNoWriMo… and I need it ever month. I should be able to find time to write 1,667 words ever day… shouldn’t I?

Let me know how you’re getting on.


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Book review – for readers and writers – no.173: Morgen reviews Rocco and the Nightingale by Adrian Magson

Today’s book review, is brought to you by Adrian Magson who gave us ‘A Change of Setting’ yesterday and previously talked about planning.

I no longer take review requests but you can read the ones done to-date on book-reviews. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. So, on to today’s book…

Rocco and the Nightingale

Synopsis: When a minor Paris criminal is found stabbed in the neck on a country lane in Picardie it looks like another case for Inspector Lucas Rocco. But instead he is called off to watch over a Gabonese government minister, hiding out in France following a coup.

Meanwhile, Rocco discovers that there is a contract on his head taken out by an Algerian gang leader with a personal grudge against him.

The novel is available from (change the to your country).

Author biography: Adrian is a freelance writer and reviewer, the author of twenty-two crime and spy thrillers, a writer’s help book (at the back of which I get a credit!), a young adult ghost novel and two collections of short fiction.



As many crime novels do, the story alternates between the criminals and police, and poor Rocco has the added complication of babysitting a reluctant African dignitary – accompanied by his bodyguard – with scant support from Rocco’s superiors. Over the course of the novel, we meet a variety of Rocco’s colleagues and a fine array of the underworld’s finest.

As a former dog owner, I liked the comparison between one of the victims and a sheepdog “that didn’t understand what he’s supposed to do. Good at running but crap at following the whistle.” Funny.

Humour is often evident in crime novels, and it’s well known that the police (in real life) make jokes to keep themselves, and their colleagues, sane. Another particularly amusing line was (and I assure you that it doesn’t refer to a child but a man from the Interior Ministry): ‘Rocco wondered if drop-kicking the little tyke down the stairs could be done without losing his job, and decided not. Maybe he could put sugar in his petrol tank… or something stronger.’ (Don’t try that at home!)

There was plenty of conflict – good vs. evil as well as antagonising characters – and well paced.

This is the fifth novel in the Rocco series. I’ve not yet read the previous stories so came to this one as a standalone reader and didn’t feel that I had (a) missed vital information that had already been covered in the previous novels that we should have had here; nor (b) information where it feels it’s been over-explained.

Rocco himself is highly professional and dedicated, wanting to solve the cases he’s involved in (and one’s he’s relieved of). He’s wily, and cleverly outplays a younger colleague without her knowing to suit his end without the reader losing any respect for him because we know it’s in the best interest of the case.

And now for writers…

  • The best piece of writing advice is to ‘show’ not ‘tell’. An example in this novel is ‘The old man looked shocked’ which is fine but it’s always best to have the character doing or saying something, e.g. ‘The old man’s mouth dropped open, his eyes wide’… or something better! 🙂
  • Exposition is a lesser-known term. It’s where two characters are talking about a topic they both are familiar with and know a piece of information but one has forgotten it and asks the other to remind them. It is a technique some authors use to provide information for the reader’s benefit. This may not have been Adrian’s intention but it’s a useful occurrence as I get to tell you about it. So, in this case we have…
    Character 1: ‘Maybe the information was rubbish.’
    Character 2: ‘What was it again?’
  • There were few clichés, which are fine in dialogue (up to a point – one character only) but less so in narration and an example is ‘nip it in the bud’.
  • At times, the story strayed into present tense, e.g. now, here, this, today etc. When writing in past tense, the narration should stay in past tense so the equivalents would be: then (although most ‘now’s can actually be removed), that, the previous day / a day earlier / the day before etc. Dialogue will be present tense regardless.
  • There were also points where it wasn’t clear who the he / she / him / her was where there were two characters of the same gender in the same scene or conversation. An example would be: ‘Rocco wasn’t so sure. It was the end of a long road, and time would tell if the charges stuck and Farek went down. He had no illusions about what a clever lawyer could do…’. The ‘He’ means Rocco but the last male name mentioned was Farek so the reader could think it was Farek who had no illusions.


It was an intricate plot, cleverly weaved, but I didn’t feel lost or confused, the expertise of the author of so many (twenty-two) novels. It was interesting to see how the threads would converge at the end.

Although crime is my favourite genre, I’m not normally a reader of historical fiction. With the occasional reference, e.g. telex rather than fax or email, and characters being threatened with the guillotine, it felt like a contemporary story and for me, an enjoyable read.

Rating: 5 out of 5


If you would like to send me a book review, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.

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Posted by on October 23, 2017 in critique, ebooks, novels, short stories, writing


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