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M.R. Mackenzie Mailing List
1 May, 2020
Newsletter Issue #2: May Musings

Hi ,

I know it's only been a couple of months since I last wrote to you, but so much has changed since then that, in many respects, it feels like we're now living in a completely different world. Obviously, I'm talking about the COVID-19 epidemic and the sweeping restrictions it has necessitated being placed on our daily lives.

Needless to say, this a hugely scary time, and my thoughts are with those who have been directly impacted by the virus, whether by the loss of a loved one, their job or anything equally profound and life-changing, as well as those on the front line, from the medical profession to supermarket workers to the people who ensure that we still have electricity, running water and internet access (and everyone else I've neglected to mention). It goes without saying that they're the ones pulling out all the stops to make sure the rest of us are in a position to soldier on, and that they all deserve a hefty pay rise.

I count myself lucky in that my working situation hasn't been affected to any great extent by the lockdown. Since the end of January, I've worked exclusively from home anyway in my capacity as a producer for Arrow Films, and the work shows no sign of drying up anytime soon. Indeed, if anything, the fact that so many people are spending so much more time at home means there's a greater need than ever for entertainment content, though we're having to come up with some creative ways to make sure the discs we put out are still as feature-stacked as ever (fresh on-camera interviews are, for obvious reasons, out for the foreseeable future).

Anyway, enough waffle. Read on to find out what I've been up to in the last couple of months in the world of writing... including some exciting sneak peeks at what you can expect from me in the months to come.

As a reminder, if you no longer want to receive these emails, you can unsubscribe any time using the link at the bottom of this message. And, if you missed the previous issue, you can view it here.

Events Roundup
Zoe Cruel Summer face close-up (image © Shutterstock)

From 21-25 March, my second novel, Cruel Summer, was available for free on Kindle. Over the course of those five days, I "sold" 324 copies, which exceeded my wildest expectations by some measure. I know that, compared with the volume some authors shift daily, that's small beer. It's also true that I won't see a penny in revenue. And I know as well as anyone that a free download doesn't automatically equate to a lifelong fan. (I have more free books on my Kindle than I'll be able to read in a lifetime.) But if, among those 324 downloads, there are a handful of people who DO read the book and enjoy it, that's more than enough.

Then, on 2 April, I took part in Noir at the Bar Edinburgh's first virtual event, reading the prologue from my first novel, In the Silence. I'd originally been scheduled to appear in person in Edinburgh at an event in May, but when lockdown happened, all such events had to be postponed or cancelled altogether. Thankfully, thanks to the magic of Facebook, the event was able to go ahead in virtual form, featuring crime authors like Craig Robertson, Jonathan Whitelaw, Sharon Bairden... and yours truly! If you missed seeing them live, you can catch all the readings, mine included, on Noir at the Bar Edinburgh's Facebook page.

On the Writing Desk 1: The Library Murders
Broken glasses and a pool of blood (image © Shutterstock)

Since we last spoke, my third novel, The Library Murders, has moved into the next phase of its journey into your hands (or onto your Kindles). I'm pleased to report that it's now with my regular editor, the eagle-eyed Mr David B. Lyons, from whom it will shortly be receiving the usual rigorous appraisal. My hope is that it will be published this summer -- most likely in August, though we'll see how things pan out. I very much hope that, by the time it's ready to see the light of day, the current lockdown restrictions will have been eased somewhat, allowing me to hold a proper launch event. If not, though, I'll have to see if it's possible to set up some sort of virtual event.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on this exclusive preview of the front cover:

The Library Murders cover

Note: cover subject to change

A rather striking image, as I'm sure you'll agree! I certainly feel it grabs the (prospective) reader's attention and, like the title itself, raises a whole bunch of questions. Whose glasses are these? How did they come to be smashed? And whose blood is splattered all over them? All will be revealed in due course...

On the Writing Desk 2: The Shadow Men
The view from Queen's Park (photo © Shutterstock)

If you thought I'd be resting on my laurels while I await my editor's judgement on The Library Murders, you'd be sorely mistaken! In the previous newsletter, I mentioned that I'd recently re-read the first draft of my third Anna Scavolini novel, The Shadow Men, with a view to getting stuck into redrafting it in the near future. That process is well underway, with roughly 40% of the second draft now in the bag. As I mentioned before, one of my main goals with this draft -- in addition to refining the plot, polishing the dialogue and generally making everything feel a bit less rough-around-the-edges -- is to curtail its excessive word count. The first draft clocked in at a staggering 148,000 words -- well in excess of what I'm sure anybody would consider acceptable for a novel not written by Stephen King or George R. R. Martin! I'm happy to report that, so far, I'm almost 7,500 words down on where I was at the same point in the first draft. Clearly, I've got a long way to go before I reach my target of around 120,000 words (which is still a good 25,000 more than either of the previous instalments, In the Silence and Cruel Summer), but I feel I've made a decent start. When you consider that I've never written a second draft that was shorter than the first, I consider this quite the achievement!

I'm also happy to report that, in my opinion, The Shadow Men is shaping up to be the best Anna Scavolini novel yet. Obviously, everyone has their own opinions as to which of the previous instalments is the strongest, but I reckon The Shadow Men contains enough elements from both to appeal to both factions. Which is your favourite -- In the Silence or Cruel Summer -- and why? Let me know! I'd love to hear from you. And, if you haven't already, be sure to grab your copy of my free short story, The Girl Who Wasn't, which takes place between the two novels.

On the Jukebox
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King soundtrack cover

A question I get asked from time to time is one that I'm sure every author hears at some point: do you listen to music while you write?

For a long time, I'd have said "no". I'm one of those people who struggles to work with a lot of noise around me. I find it very hard to block it out and concentrate solely on the task at hand. To that end, for the longest time, I shied away from listening to music while writing. Lately, though, I've been experimenting, seeing if it's possible to work effectively with some light accompaniment. The jury's still out as to whether having music on in the background actually IMPROVES my writing, but at the very least I've concluded that it doesn't actively harm it, provided it meets certain criteria. First, it needs to be reasonably gentle, without too much in the way of thundering drums and crashing cymbals. Second, it can't include any lyrics, otherwise I either get hopelessly distracted or find myself accidentally transcribing the words I'm hearing as opposed to whatever I'm actually supposed to be writing.

Of late, I've been listening a lot to the various soundtracks to the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft. I've never been able to get into WoW (I absolutely love the Warcraft real time strategy games, but the move from strategy to MMO always left me cold), but I'll make an exception for the music, which I don't think it's an exaggeration to say is some of the best ever composed for any computer game. I doubt I'll ever play the upcoming Shadowlands expansion, but you can bet I'll buy the soundtrack as soon as it's available! In the meantime, the one I find myself returning to more often than any other is the 2008 expansion, Wrath of the Lich King (link to the soundtrack's listing on Spotify). It's dark, melodic, and subtle enough to melt away into the background instead of jostling for my attention.

Curiously, the version sold on iTunes contains three exclusive tracks not found on the other releases (and, by the same token, is missing three tracks that are found elsewhere). On balance, I think I prefer the iTunes version -- particularly "Path of the Lifewarden", with its Ennio Morricone-esque whistling -- though you'll want to own both versions to get the complete experience.

Got any other questions, either about my writing process or anything else? Get in touch and I'll be happy to answer them. I might even feature them in a future newsletter!

That’s All, Folks!

That's it for another instalment. I'll be back to haunt your inboxes again in eight weeks or so -- hopefully with some more Library Murders-related news for you. Who knows what the world will look like by then? Until next time, stay safe and stay sane... and happy reading!

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A spooky library staircase. Image courtesy of
Books by M.R. Mackenzie Available Now
In the Silence
Cruel Summer
M.R. Mackenzie

Unit 29574
PO Box 26965

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