An interview with Samantha Lee Howe

My guest today writes spine chilling horror, page turning crime fiction and fast paced spy fiction. If you’re looking for your next great read, then look no further!

Hi Sam, welcome to my blog! Firstly, please introduce yourself and your books.

Hi everyone, I’m Samantha Lee Howe and I am the USA TODAY bestselling author of The Stranger In Our Bed, The House of Killers, Kill Or Die and Kill A Spy. I’m a novelist and screenwriter. I also write Horror, Fantasy, SF and Supernatural fiction under the pen name Sam Stone.

When did you start writing? Can you tell me about your journey to publication?

I’ve always been a writer since a very young age. I had some poetry and short stories published in the mid to late 1990s (which seems like a very long time ago now!). And on the back of that I earned a place at Bolton University to do my English degree which was joint Writing for Performance. When I qualified, I gained a place at Manchester University to do a PGCE and I became an English teacher in 2003. But my dream to be a writer didn’t go away and so I took an MA in Creative Writing – specialising in prose – at Bolton part time and I ended up writing my first novel for my dissertation. My professional writing career began in 2007 when I was published by a small press called The House of Murky Depths. After that it was an uphill climb, where I’d write before and after the school day while I was teaching. Murky Depths published the first 5 of the Vampire Gene Series with a great deal of success.

So far you have written 27 novels, three novellas, three collections, more than 60 short stories, an audio drama, a Doctor Who spin-off drama as well as the screenplay for The Stranger in our Bed. How do you fit it all in? What is your writing routine like?

I’m lucky enough these days to be able to write full time and I do treat it very much as job. I start almost as soon as I wake at 7.30am. I write until mid-morning, then, I shower etc. I do this because I set the tone for the day and I get my best work done in the morning if I don’t allow anything else to be a distraction. I write all day with a few breaks and usually stop around 3-4pm. At which time I switch to editing mode and I work on books I’m editing for Telos Publishing or sometimes for friends I’m helping or mentoring. By doing this I structure my day and don’t waste any time. I work until 5pm usually, then I go and make dinner!

My evenings are always resting watching TV with my husband and cuddling our very demanding cats!

Sometimes my day is different, it depends on other factors, such as what I have to prioritise. At the moment, I’m working on two different projects simultaneously, a new Crime collection of short stories and a first book of a potential series with another writer – but I can’t say more about that as it’s all NDA’d!

How I work this is I choose set days when I’m writing stories and set days to work on the other project. I will work 7 days a week when I need to, but I try to get Sundays off to spend with my husband. And sometimes we are attending events at weekends so that’s an enforced writing rest of sorts!

As well as writing crime fiction, you also write horror fiction under the name Sam Stone. How do the two genres compare and have you ever been tempted to combine the two?

I think that horror and crime do work very closely together. Looking back now, I realise that most of my horror, fantasy and SF books were all mysteries but usually with some supernatural explanation. Writing mainstream thrillers, crime and mysteries is actually a lot harder for me than supernatural fiction. You have to get your facts and research right and you can’t solve the problem with a supernatural excuse, it has to be plausible. Having said that I do love writing thrillers, especially exploring the psychological aspect of characters as I’m fascinated with the way psychopaths, narcissists and sociopaths think and what motivates their actions. When you study people there is a wealth of stories you can tell. Besides, I think real people can be far more dangerous and frightening than supernatural monsters!

Your book The Stranger in Our Bed has recently been made into a film which must have been very exciting. How was the experience of adapting your own work for the screen? Would you do it again?

It’s quite rare that the author of a book gets the opportunity to write the screenplay, so I was very lucky to have the chance to do this. Fortunately, I had written for screen before and my BA specialism was screenwriting so I did have knowledge of how to approach it. I was also aware that you do have to make changes in order for somethings to work on screen that might work differently in a novel.

This was a very pleasant and positive experience for me, particularly because actress and producer Terri Dwyer made it so. She was incredibly supportive throughout the process and I was really willing to work with everyone and listen to their opinions and suggestions as I’m not precious at all. I just wanted the film to work in its own right as a great thriller because that was what was really important.

I would definitely do it again, given the chance and I am also working on original screenplays too, that I might one day do the reverse and novelise.

My favourite books of yours are The House of Killers trilogy. One of your characters is an assassin and the other an MI5 operative. The research must have been fascinating! How did you go about it?

Wow! The research I had to do for these books was fascinating. I had a consultant who worked for the government that helped me a lot. And I also reached out to a weapons manufacturer who was incredibly helpful. There were somethings I learnt that I wished I could unlearn but spies and spying and assassins are always fascinating material. Hiding in plain sight is one of my key take aways and I’m very observant in my every day life. Is the person wearing a construction orange jacket and carrying a clipboard, who we often ignore, really meant to be there? We often taken official-looking people on face value but …

What advice would you give to other people wanting to write?

Firstly, you never see half-finished books in bookstores. So always finish everything. This will give you the mental stamina needed to keep writing. I always liken the creative muscle to any muscle. You don’t go into a gym and lift heavy weights on the first visit – you have to build up to it. And the writing stamina is exactly the same, the more you practise though, the easier is gets. People often say start small, short stories perhaps? But I must admit I always swayed more towards novel writing initially than stories. So – the most important thing is write what you like. Write what excites you. Write what you’d really like to read. Write from the heart and you’ll always engage with your readers. And of course, read a lot, always.

Finally, what are you working on now?

I’m currently in the middle of writing a complete short story collection called CRIMES OF PASSION which is hopefully going to be published later this year. The collection can be pre-ordered from Telos Publishing and all pre-orders will be signed by me and receive a thank you in the dedications page of the book. For more information you can visit

Sam’s books are always a great read and her first novel Killing Kiss is available for just 99p at the moment (2 June 2023) on Amazon.

Check out Sam’s other books on Amazon:

The House of Killers

Kill or Die

Kill a Spy

The Stranger in Our Bed

On the Shelf: April 2023 reads

I read ten books in April 2023:

  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Old Babes in the Wood by Margaret Atwood (short story collection)
  • The Cloisters by Katy Hays
  • Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (audiobook)
  • The Silence Project by Carole Hailey
  • Scary Smart by Mo Gawdat (non-fiction)
  • Why We Dream by Alice Robb (non-fiction)
  • Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson
  • The Book Share by Phaedre Patrick

I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Margaret Atwood in Liverpool in March. She is such an inspiration, and I could have listened to her all night! Intelligent, passionate and funny. One of my favourite actresses, Maxine Peake, also performed one of her short stories which was wonderful.

The trip sparked a binge read of Margaret Atwood’s books. I am (slowly) reading Burning Questions, a collection of essays, but this month I also read Oryx and Crake, Old Babes in the Wood (a short story collection) and listened to The Year of the Flood on audiobook. I am particularly enjoying the Maddadam trilogy and finding it more accessible than The Handmaid’s Tale which I read a long time ago.

Another highlight this month was The Cloisters by Katy Hays. A young academic spends her summer interning at a secret museum in the heart of New York with a medieval garden and enigmatic colleagues. I loved the setting of this book – it was like stepping back in time. The comparisons to The Secret History by Donna Tartt are well deserved.

The Silence Project by Carole Hailey was also a brilliant read. It’s written like a memoir and sometimes it felt like you were reading real events. Narrated by her daughter, a middle-aged woman vows to stay silent and listen more which spirals into a global movement with tragic and alarming consequences. I loved all the moral dilemmas this book raised.

I read Scary Smart for research, and it really opened my eyes to the potential dangers of artificial intelligence. There is lots in the news about it at the moment so I would recommend this book if you’re interested in the subject. I wasn’t 100% sold on the solutions offered in this book, however.

Finally, Blood and Sugar is another recommended read. It’s a historical thriller set in the 1780s. It is highly immersive and very detailed. I really enjoyed the book, but I did find it quite complicated towards the end and it was hard to keep track of who all the characters were and how they related to each other. I am looking forward to reading the next in the series.

On the Shelf: March 2023 reads

In March 2023, I read:

  • It Starts with Us by Colleen Hoover
  • A Writer’s Diary by Toby Litt (non-fiction)
  • The Red House by Roz Watkins (proof)
  • Babel by R F Kuang
  • The Marriage Act by John Marrs
  • The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
  • The Couple at the Table by Sophie Hannah
  • The Change by Kirsten Millar

I’m a big fan of Roz Watkins’ novels so I was honoured to be sent a proof of her next book. Brimming with tension, The Red House is a fast-paced thriller with an intriguing premise and a contemporary twist.

Watkins uses her intimate knowledge of the Peak District to produce an atmospheric and gripping novel which features a sinister house surrounded by marsh land, a young woman desperate to leave her past behind her, and a constant search for justice. 

The Red House will be published on 22 June 2023.

Babel by R F Kuang was one of my favourite books this month. This fantasy adventure takes us to an alternative history where scholars are able to weave magic through translation. Robin, the hero, is at first overwhelmed and excited when he is accepted into the elite Royal Institute of Translation, nicknamed ‘Babel’, but quickly realises the devastating power the institute yields. The book explores the relationship between language and colonialism. It was a wonderful, thought provoking and challenging read.  

My other favourite book this month was The Change by Kirsten Millar. The menopause brings about the emergence of dormant powers for the heroines of this novel: Harriet, Jo and Nessa. The women team up not only to hunt down the killer of young women in their neighbourhood, but to avenge their deaths. The novel delivers a powerful message about the way women are treated in society wrapped up in a satisfying and pacy thriller.  

On the Shelf: February 2023 reads

In February 2023 I read:

  • The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker
  • Talk to me about when we were perfect by Amanda Huggins (poetry collection)
  • The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
  • The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • The Girl Upstairs by Georgina Lees
  • Playing for Love by Jeevani Charika 
  • It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover (re-read)

I was lucky enough to be sent a proof copy of Amanda Huggins’ new poetry collection.

talk to me about when we were perfect is a stunning collection which transports the reader from Yorkshire, London and further afield to Japan.

I particularly enjoyed the nostalgic poems in which Huggins takes us back to her teenage years, encapsulating the awkwardness of meeting boys, making plans for the future, sporting the latest fashion trends, and the flush of first love.

The Talented Mr Ripley is a classic for crime fiction fans and it’s not hard to see why. Tom Ripley is such an intriguing character. It’s incredible how Highsmith can have your rooting for him all the way through the book, even though he is very much the villain. It also made me really want to go to the Italian Riviera!

My favourite book of the month had to be Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. It’s an incredible book exploring the stories of different women and their experiences of race, gender and sexuality in contemporary Britain. There are no full stops in the book which creates a fluid style that absolutely works for the stories the author is telling. I loved it and would highly recommend it.

I don’t read many love stories, but I make an exception for a few favourite authors, and Jeevani Charika is one of them. I loved the premise of Playing for Love – two people who know each other online and offline but don’t know about each other’s alter egos. The love story is told from both Samadhi and Luke’s perspectives and I enjoyed all the near misses as the relationship between the two protagonists developed. The way the game they were playing brought out their personalities was deftly done and I liked the poignancy of how Samadhi’s business venture was inspired by her mother.

On the Shelf: January 2023 reads

In January 2023 I read:

  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (re-read)
  • The House of Fortune by Jessie Burton
  • Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury (non-fiction)
  • Shiver by Allie Reynolds
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
  • The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz (re-read)
  • In the Blink of an Eye by Jo Callaghan
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Jessie Burton is one of my favourite writers and The Miniaturist was a re-read. I wanted to immerse myself in the world of 18th century Amsterdam again before I read the sequel, The House of Fortune. You could, perhaps, read the second as a stand alone but I thought it was better in sequence. Jessie Burton’s prose is superb and she has the ability to transport you anywhere and to any time. I loved the main character and all the historical detail in The House of Fortune, but I preferred The Miniaturist overall.

If you enjoy fast-paced psychological thrillers, I wholeheartedly recommend Shiver by Allie Reynolds and In the Blink of an Eye by Jo Callaghan. I thought both of them were excellent. They had all the elements you look for in crime fiction – a great plot, brilliant characters, a fast paced story and a satisfying ending, but each had an extra element which made them stand out for me.

Allie Reynolds’ book is set in the world of competitive snowboarding which I thought was really interesting and raised the stakes for her characters, while Jo Callaghan teams up an experienced human detective with an AI detective which was something I had never come across before and produced lots of great conflict and a touch of comedy.

Zen in the Art of Writing is a very inspiring book to read if you want to write and I also really enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s book about Norse Mythology.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz was another re-read. This time I am reading it for a book group, so I am keen to find out what other people think about it. It raises lots of interesting questions about writing and stories, and the main character is someone you love to hate. This time around I knew the ending, so it was fun to spot the clues I had missed the first time. I also enjoyed The Recovery of Rose Gold and the way Wrobel alternated between the daughter and the mother’s points of view.  

This is the first time I have read Brave New World. The style is quite different from contemporary fiction, so it took a little while to get into, but I enjoyed the moral dilemmas it raised and the acute observations about society, many of which are still relevant today.

On the Shelf: December 2022 reads

In December 2022 I read:

  • The List by Carys Jones
  • The Festival by Sarah J Naughton
  • Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson
  • Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell
  • Stay Close by Harlan Coben
  • As Good as Dead by Holly Jackson
  • Dead Man’s Footsteps by Peter James

The List and The Festival were both great psychological thrillers – fast paced with interesting characters. I particularly liked the setting of a music festival which made for lots of chaos and confusion. The tension between the reunited friends was also very realistic.

Good Girl, Bad Blood and As Good as Dead by Holly Jackson are the second and third books in the A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder trilogy and I enjoyed them both. I would definitely read more of Holly Jackson’s novels. I particularly liked the main character in this trilogy and her feisty attitude!

My favourite books of 2022

I read 96 books in 2022.

My favourite books (in the order I read them) were:

  • Call of the Penguins by Hazel Prior
  • The Dying Day by Vaseem Khan (The Malabar House Mysteries #2)
  • Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka
  • The Burning Girls by C J Tudor
  • Sea Defences by Hilary Taylor
  • Magpie by Elizabeth Day
  • A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson
  • Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by T J Klune
  • The Foundling by Stacey Halls
  • It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

On the Shelf: November 2022 reads

In November 2022, I read:

  • The Foundling by Stacey Halls
  • You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood
  • Hide by Nell Pattison
  • It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
  • Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough
  • Letters to my Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe
  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  • Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham
  • Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (non-fiction, research)

Two of my favourite books this month were historical fiction: The Foundling by Stacey Halls and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar. In both cases, it was the characters that really drew me into these stories as much as the setting.

You Don’t Know Me was adapted into a TV series which I watched earlier in the year, so I already knew the plot. It’s a very powerful book exploring racism and the criminal justice system.

I read It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover in one sitting! I literally could not put this down. I really wanted to read Colleen Hoover’s books because they are so popular, and I can see why. Again, it’s the main character that absolutely hooks you in. At first, I thought this was going to be a standard romance but then things take a darker turn, and you just have to keep reading to find out what happens next.

Letters to my Daughter’s Killer was a re-read. This book had a profound effect on me when I first read it. It’s a very moving story about grief, anger and forgiveness.

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker was research for my next book. This is a fascinating insight into why and how we sleep and the impact it has on our physical and mental health. It’s also very accessible and easy to read if, like me, you’re not much of a scientist.

An interview with…Hilary Taylor

I was very fortunate to read a proof of Hilary Taylor’s debut novel, Sea Defences, which is due out on 12 January next year.

Sea Defences is a stunning debut with evocative descriptions, strong characterisation and a simmering tension which builds to a thrilling finale. Fans of Broadchurch, in particular, will love this book. 

In this blog post, Hilary talks about her journey to publication and what she’s working on next.

Please introduce yourself and your new book

Hello Sarah. Thank you for hosting me on your blog. I’m Hilary Taylor. I live in Suffolk and worked for many years as a primary school teacher. My debut literary novel, Sea Defences, will be published by Lightning Books ( on 12 January 2023. It tells the story of Rachel, a trainee vicar who learns the terrifying power of the North Sea when her six-year-old daughter goes missing on the beach. She is drawn into an unlikely friendship with defiant loner, Mary, whose son is nursing a secret. The book has been described as a searingly honest psychological drama. 

When did you start writing? Can you tell me about your journey to publication?

I started writing seriously and submitting my work about 25 years ago, in the days of postage stamps and padded envelopes and actual paper rejection slips. It’s been a long road! 13 years ago I began entering short story competitions – and winning prizes, which spurred me to keep going with longer work as well. Although I had plenty of full manuscript requests from agents, none of them wanted to represent me (except one, who tried to sell a couple of picture books I’d written). My short fiction continued to do well, and in 2018 one of my stories won third prize in the Bath Short Story Award. That story, also titled Sea Defences, was the basis for this novel. Again, I had interest from agents, but no takers, and then a fellow writer suggested Lightning Books. I submitted, and a few weeks later they offered me a deal.

Sea Defences is your debut novel. How have you found the experience so far? Was there anything that surprised you?

I’m guessing that the experience of working with my small indie publisher (who, incidentally, was a British Book Awards Small Press of the Year regional winner in 2022) is very different from what it would be with a bigger publisher and an agent. It’s a year since I signed the deal, and throughout that time I have worked directly with one main person at Lightning Books, as well as being able to talk to the ‘boss’! Communication has been excellent, so I know what’s happening and feel involved at every stage.  I don’t think anything has surprised me yet – apart from the fact that I’m a published novelist at last!

Who are your favourite authors?

The ones that spring to mind are Rose Tremain, Helen Dunmore, Susan Hill, Carys Bray, Rachel Joyce, Patrick Gale, Claire Fuller, Joanna Cannon. And when I’m in the mood for crime, my go-to author is Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine.

What advice would you give to other people wanting to write?

  1. Read. It’s probably true that most writers write the kind of books they like to read. Maybe don’t over-analyse, but it’s worth thinking about why you like those books. How does the author do it? And if you read something you don’t like so much, think about the reasons for that, too.
  2. Write. No rules about how or when. Just do it. Hone your craft by practising, and by reading books about writing if they are helpful. But remember that there’s no single right way of doing things.
  3. Even if you aim to write long, write some short pieces from time to time. It feels different, and can be refreshing. And writing to a limited wordcount is excellent practice for cutting out the unnecessary. When I was researching life in the 1940s for my current work-in-progress, reading about ‘Make do and Mend’ gave me the idea for a flash fiction piece which went on to win second prize in the Flash500 competition.
  4. Find your writing community, even if it’s just one or two others. Writers can be a very supportive bunch.
  5. Learn how to pick yourself up and carry on when your submissions get turned down. Think about what success looks like for you. It’s different for different people.

Finally, what are you working on now?

I’m writing the first draft of a novel set partly in the 1940s and partly in the 1990s. The idea was sparked by a page in an old family photo album, where some photographs had been removed. Alongside the captions was an ambiguous note, written years later in spidery handwriting, mentioning an adoption which none of my family members had ever heard about. A mystery surrounded the identity of one person. Intrigued, I explored a series of ‘what if’ questions, and the novel idea began to take shape.

You can order Sea Defences from as well as via Amazon, Waterstones and other bookshops.

Follow Hilary on Twitter and Instagram: @hilarytaylor00