GAVIN Bell isn’t a man who is easily daunted but even he had a sharp intake of breath when he was honoured by Britain’s biggest book club.

Gavin, who writes crime thrillers under the name of Mason Cross, was delighted to learn that his most recent novel, The Samaritan, had been selected as one of the eight picks for Spring 2016 by the Richard & Judy Book Club.

The books all receive invaluable front-of-store placing in every WH Smith store - an irresistible opportunity for any author, as WH Smith has a presence in many High Streets, railway stations and airports.

“It’s a massive boost, and probably the biggest thing that can happen to a fiction author in this country,” said Gavin this week. “I guess the equivalent in America would be Oprah Winfrey’s book club.”

Gavin, who was born in Glasgow, and works in the city, went down to London to meet Richard and Judy, and be photographed with them.

“Richard and Judy essentially take over an entire hotel for the day and carry out podcast interviews with all the authors,” he said.

“All the eight books take it in turn to be highlighted title and there is a blog about them on the WH Smith website, as well as a Q+A and a review of the book.”

He was delighted to meet the couple, too. “They were so nice and it was quite surreal because they were exactly like they are on television.”

He laughs. “It was like an out-of-body experience - I remember thinking, ‘This is weird - they’re right in front of me, and they’e speaking to me!’ It was almost like being on television.”

The Samaritan, which has just been published in paperback, pits manhunter Carter Blake against a serial killer, a shadowy figure from Blake’s own past.

The first Blake adventure, The Killing Season, sold well and brought Gavin to the attention of Lee Child, bestselling author of the Jack Reacher novels. "My kind of book", was Child's verdict.

There’s no doubt that the Richard and Judy Book Club is very big business in the world of fiction.

Over the years it has highlighted books by such well-known novelists as Anne Tyler, Kate Mosse, Monica Ali, Zoe Heller, Robert Harris, David Mitchell, Jodi Picoult, Julian Barnes and William Boyd.

In additin, Richard Madeley posts regular updates to his Twitter followers - all 205,000 of them.

“As far as I’m aware,” says Gavin, “publishers submit books to Richard and Judy who do it in partnership with WH Smith.

“They start off with a hundred books or so and experts read through them and pick the best ones for all the different categories. Then Richard and Judy will read about 18 or 20 and narrow them down to the final eight.

“Obviously, it is fantastic for any author to reach that final eight.

“It’s doubly complimentary, because it’s not just for new authors or just for crime authors.

“It’s for all sorts of fiction, so the new Spring list has first-time authors like Laura Barnett (The Versions of Us) and the comedian Jenny Eclair (Moving).

“Because it’s open to all fiction writers, it’s really encouraging to know that you have been deemed good enough to be included in the final eight.”

The idea for The Samaritan came to Gavin late one night.

“I was driving over a hill when I saw a car that had broken down by the side of the road.

“There was another car parked nearby. In my headlights I saw a woman waiting as a man changed her front tyre. I thought 'Good Samaritan', as you do. Then I thought, But what if it was a Bad Samaritan, helping that woman in a dark and isolated spot?

"I remember thinking, surely someone will have done that before as a serial killer's modus operandi. I dug around but couldn't find a book called The Samaritan. It struck me as being a really cool hook for a book.

“It just happened that it fit in really well with Carter Blake's back-story, the fact he used to do something different, back in the day, and that it's always interesting to see ghosts from the past coming back, to cause trouble.

"I keep a notebook in the car, not for epiphanies like that one, but because, when you're writing a book, it's when you're away from your computer that you can mentally work through any problems in the plot.

”That was something one of my old jobs - delivering pizzas in Hamilton - was great for. You'd be driving around highly familiar roads, not having to think too much about what you're doing, and your subconscious can really get to work on that.”

Gavin, 37, has spent the last decade in the voluntary sector. He currently works in IT for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations at its offices in the Merchant City. Home is in Cambuslang, where he lives with his wife Laura and their three children.

In the meantime, there is more good news for Gavin as the hardback version of The Samaritan is being published in the U.S. on Monday.

His next book, Winterlong, is due out in a few months’ time. “In a way,” he says, “it will tie up a lot of the loose ends from the first two books. And I’m hoping it will do well off the back of this honour from Richard and Judy.”

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