I went to buy ant powder and accidentally became a novelist - Alice James

23 May 2023

“There was a remaindered bookshop attached to the garden centre. Searching for a third book to make up my five-pound bin bargain, I discovered a need to redefine the zombie genre…”

The ants invade our kitchen every year. They appear, just as spring has begun to get in some serious burgeoning, on their relentless journey across the bread bin to the cat food bowl. About eight years ago, I saw one heading for the butter dish and reached for the ant powder. (We put a little line around the pipe lagging and they cease their invasion; sadly, I gather this tactic doesn’t work with Russia.) On this occasion, though, we’d run out.


I headed over to the garden centre.

It's one of those outlets with dozens of little units, selling everything from scented candles and greeting cards to tropical fish. There’s also a remaindered bookshop where – despite the cost-of-living crisis – you can still get three books for a fiver. Legit love that place.

This time, though, I couldn’t find a third volume I fancied, so I picked out one I thought my husband might enjoy, an anthology of short stories about zombies. Inevitably, I read it myself. And then, bizarrely, I was utterly hooked.

I told my husband the next day that I had decided to write a short story about zombies. He was appropriately confused; I wasn’t normally that into horror and once had to be escorted out of the cinema during a screening of Jeepers Creepers and given a paper bag to breathe into. But I wasn’t joking. For four hours a day, I sat at my laptop plugging away, occasionally emerging to ask how far blood would spurt out of a freshly severed neck or how deeply an industrial nail gun could penetrate human flesh. (Quite a way, apparently; treat those babies with respect.)

But I didn’t actually write a short story; I wrote an entire book. It was a whodunnit, a romantic paranormal adventure with not only zombies but vampires, demons and necromancers. And croquet. And cake. Then I wrote a sequel. And another. I wrote a seven-volume series in two years.


Then I got an agent. He poked at volume one with a biro for a year and then got me a publisher. They poked at it with another biro for a year and then got ready to launch it.

And then Covid hit.

I don’t want to moan. People died in Covid. Others lost loved ones. Many went bankrupt. We merely had to cancel all our launch plans and watch my book disappear into a sales vacuum; no one ever got to hear about The Lavington Windsor Mysteries, in which a hapless estate agent-cum-necromancer raises the dead to solve their murders in between failing to get a boyfriend and learning to play croquet. My publisher was sorry about the end of my hopes and dreams, but not as sorry as I was.


And then…then a flotilla of tiny miracles saved me.

The Financial Times made Grave Secrets one of their top picks. Pre-booked marketing with BookBub went ahead with few expectations but was…astounding. My novel sold 1,500 copies in one day. My publisher had to double-check the numbers. Then one of my heroines, Deanna Raybourn, mentioned in her popular newsletter and on Twitter that she loved the book. Sales did another little leap. Another heroine, the fabulous Janet Evanovich, personally sent me a signed hardback of her new book to use for marketing; I couldn’t believe the kindness of the author community.

And then my editor contacted me – they wanted to sign the next two books in the series and option the next one too. I danced round the kitchen with the cat. He was unimpressed but I was over the moon. Covid had lost and my heroine Toni Windsor and I had won. Volumes two and three are out this year.

So, let’s hear it for three-for a-fiver bargain basement book outlets. And zombies.

If you would like to read any of Alice’s novels or short stories, they are available in all the usual places: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alice-James/e/B0BC23PBQN/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

About Alice James


Alice works as a writer, specialising in finance and travel. She was previously a journalist and TV presenter for Bloomberg before becoming press and PR director of a $1 billion US hedge fund for 18 months. That turned out to be the worst period in history for hedge funds, so she retired wounded and decided that perhaps writing fantasy was a safer career. Alice has a degree in Maths from Bristol University - and half of a diploma in silversmithing from UCE University because it turns out that making the ladies' version of the One Ring is a lot harder than she thought. She likes cats and ramen noodles and lives in a converted chapel in Oxfordshire. Her go-to comfort dish is a big plate of dumplings, her number one cocktail is a Manhattan and her favourite polygon is a triangle, though she has a soft spot for concave rhomboids.