author post: sj brown on writing high beam

High Beam (check out my pal Karen’s review here)is the first book in the DI Mahoney series, set in Tasmania – and I’m thrilled to see books set in places you don’t see in literature as much – and is a pacey new read by S J Brown. Here, he tells us how his tale of politics, violence and football came to be.


Despite an almost overwhelming body of advice not to, writers continue to embark on the perilous path to being a published author. And with the hope, again in the face of a welter of evidence pushing the contrary opinion, they may become commercially successful.


Why plug away for months, usually years, at creating a product that may be submerged by unpitying waves of indifference? Why do all the research into your subject area and work unceasingly at improving your writing technique if there is so slim a chance of actually seeing your novel on the shelves?

Why indeed?

Quite simply because the risk is so great. You are not risking your life but you are placing a great deal else at risk; your sanity, self-esteem, sense of self, reputation, and belief in a fair and just universe all go on the line. You are truly putting yourself out there in front of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Yet in doing so you are taking on life by endeavouring to leave your footprint in a definitive way.
And also because you soon realise that ‘success’ as an author comes in many forms. That is at the heart of what I have experienced over the past few years as I seek to make the transition from writer to author (my distinction is simple: an author is a published writer).

Here is why I believe I am a ‘successful’ author;

1. I acquired some ‘bum glue’ and sat down to write and write and write some more. Prior to hearing Michael Robotham’s blunt advice on how to be a writer I had dabbled and made a number of promising, but false, starts. I learned to make time to facilitate a writing schedule. I took steps to learn all I could about crafting fiction, the publishing industry and the specialities of my preferred genre (e.g. it would be hard to create good crime fiction without a solid grasp of forensics and investigative procedure). Then I cut, edited, re-wrote and effectively re-created my manuscript. I overcame lethargy. I learned the crucial truth that inspiration is but a small part of writing: perspiration is at the heart of so many good books.
I took pains to improve and, in doing so, I have experienced success in my battle with despair, self-doubt and fear. It’s an ongoing struggle but I’m advancing.

2. I have fallen deeply for the process. Professionals of all persuasions often talk about “being in the zone.” As I sit at my desk and disappear into the fictional world I’ve created there is a palpable sense of being completely engaged in the task. In the background ABC Classic FM is playing but the only times I consciously hear it is at the time-pips on the hour. Otherwise I’m with ‘my people’ and that’s a great feeling. I doubt the day will come when I feel the same about proofing a manuscript but you never know.

3. My books are on the shelves (and my e-books are in the cloud somewhere: I’m not overly technical). For an indie author to get your books placed is a real achievement. You have to sell your product (and yourself) very hard. Fortunately there are plenty of booksellers prepared to back authors who dare to ask. And they are selling. You won’t have seen me on the best-seller charts (just yet!) but they are selling.

4. The feedback is (largely) positive. Reviews, both informal and formal have been constructive and very encouraging. Bearing in mind obtaining any sort of review in the mainstream media is exceedingly difficult to accrue any publicity or critical feedback is a huge bonus.

5. I’ve had the opportunity to experience afresh the generosity of the wider community. While it could have been anticipated my local Dymocks proprietor (Ian Campbell in Hobart) would be a great source of commercial insight (I’m a long-time book buyer and we know each other through sport) it was an unexpected bonus to find, on a recent trek through country Victoria, so many booksellers giving up valuable time to offer advice and encouragement. (And agreeing to stock my titles!)

6. (Trumpet fanfare)! Early in 2016 I’ll be appearing at my first Literary Festival. This is big. I’m not kidding. Not just the occasion (Tamar Valley Literary Festival 2016) but the opportunity. It’s like your debut book launch, first author signing in a different town, premier radio interview: an event that reinforces a belief I am inching toward some semblance of public recognition that my input into the cultural world is valued.

With an acknowledgement to George Orwell, that’s why I write. Well, partly. Of course it’s do with a host of other reasons but the foregoing is my personal response to the question of why an embryonic writer should stick at it. To paraphrase another Anglo author, E M Forster, it is the way “to connect, only connect.”
For me, crime fiction is the best means to connect with other booklovers. Rather than construct a thesis on the attributes of the genre let me simply say this: it is the branch of fiction that deals most comprehensively with the trials and tribulations of life. My take on the police procedural is the “Whydunnit”: here the focus is on why seemingly quite normal people are driven to take life. The stress that drives someone to contemplate homicide and the pressure the detectives endure in the investigation of such a crime is at the heart of my “TAS Noir” novels.

Stephen Brown (S J Brown) is the author of the Detective Inspector Mahoney series. Set in Tasmania, they seek to show what is happening beneath the placid ‘tourist poster’ surface. HIGH BEAM and DEAD WOOD are available in stores.

review: honey brown, dark horse

Don’t be led astray by her crayon-sweet name—Honey Brown can write a mean psychological thriller. Last year I adored the highly original After the Darkness, and this year Dark Horse has come along to keep you unnerved for some three hundred pages.

It’s Christmas Day and Sarah Barnard is frustrated with the world that’s turned against her. Instead of going to see her disapproving parents, she takes to the Tasmanian mountainside with the one she trusts most: her damaged black mare, Tansy. But on the ascent, the planet has more in store for her—catastrophic weather that endangers her life and floods the mountain, trapping her. She seeks shelter, but as the day passes, she realises she is not alone.

Heath is young, attractive, evasive, and disconcerting. It is not entirely clear why he is there, how he got there, and whether anything he says is true. What is clear is that he is hiding something from Sarah, but is it just his real name or something much more sinister? The nature of their relationship, and the ground beneath them, is constantly changing, and you’ll second-guess yourself throughout reading this—and probably never go camping alone again. (For the record, I rarely go camping at all and this will be my justification from now on.)

This is not quite as strong as After the Darkness, but that might not be entirely Brown’s doing: in bad timing I read this after two books of a similar feel (naming them would be paramount to giving out spoilers) and, had it been broken up with a different style of crime, I may have enjoyed it more. As it was, I still found it a good, tense read, and Brown knows how to knock around her readers. And it’s not her fault that I really don’t like horses. (Why are they so BIG? Why do people RIDE THEM? They are ALARMING.)


A version of this review originally appeared in Readings Monthly