Wednesday, 16 July 2014

This blog has moved

I have now moved the blog over to my website at so this blog will no longer be updated. Please feel free to come and say hello over at my new home.

Saturday, 24 May 2014


I have signed up to The WoMentoring Project - a free mentoring project, which is the brainchild of author Kerry Hudson, and that aims to support emerging female writers. The scheme has been created to help those who would usually find the costs of mentoring prohibitive. As the website says: 'The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simple: to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support'. I'm offering a couple of hours of free mentoring to one mentee so if anyone is interested in taking up the offer, my profile is on the site here. There are plenty of other writers to choose from though - as well as editors and literary agents - so it's well worth applying if it's something you fancy doing. I'm currently being mentored through my own novel (not via this project) so I know how worthwhile it is to be supported by someone who's already been where you would like to go.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Hawthornden happiness

Hawthornden Castle viewed from one of the castle walks
I am back from my month-long writing fellowship at Hawthornden Castle, Edinburgh. Well, I've been back a fortnight but I've been busy with work (after a month away from the day job I suppose I have to do *some*). I had a great time - a really great time. I wrote like a demon, ate lots of lovely food and met five nice new writer friends... all in all, a wonderful, memorable experience.

In a little more detail... I travelled by train to Edinburgh on a Saturday in mid-March with a huge suitcase (yes, I took far too much) and was picked up at the station by the castle administrator, who also happens to be a poet, Hamish Robinson - a lovely and very funny human being indeed. A couple of the writers had already arrived the day before after flying in from the US, so after collecting me there were a couple more to pick up before we made our way to the castle.

My room: Bronte
On the journey we chatted generally and spoke a little about our works-in-progress (we were all there to work on novels). After half an hour or so, we were turning into the rather impressive - and beautiful - tree-lined drive at the castle (a 15th/16th century building, which was once the home of the poet William Drummond). When we got out we lugged our cases and bags inside and were shown up to the writers' floor (up a rather narrow, spiral stone staircase) and then to our rooms - all of which are named after writers and have the names of writers who have stayed there on the door (not everyone gets on the door - you have to have a book published you worked on while you were there). I was, rather aptly, given Bronte - a lovely room with everything I needed including a desk from which I had a view of the castle roof and a little bit of sky. Perfect, as there's nothing I like better than writing and then looking up at clouds or stars when I'm thinking about things. After unpacking, it was almost time to meet everyone for sherry and dinner. Part of the excitement of going was not knowing who I was going to be spending a month with. Therefore, it was nice to finally meet the other five properly: US writers Andrea Smith and Drew Larimore, Singaporean writer Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Ukrainian writer Julia Kissina and Bulgarian writer Alek Popov - a great group of people as I was to discover over the month. We ate a rather lovely meal with haddock soufflé for starters, haggis and vegetables, followed by cheese and biscuits. Then we went to the drawing room after to carry on finding out about each other before we gradually all disappeared to bed.

One of the rooms in the library
After that first night, the days gradually found their own rhythm. I would get up and go down to the hearth room for breakfast (porridge in a pewter pot was my favourite), sometimes chatting to the others at the long wooden table if they were up and about. After breakfast I would go back to my room and do a little bit of reading before starting to write. I soon found out why Hawthornden is such a special place - the peace and quiet, the sense of calm; it is perfect if you need to concentrate on something as big and unwieldy as a
Part of the Castle Walk
novel. Having no distractions meant I could just lose myself in the world of the novel. Bliss. There's no cooking to do - all your meals are provided for you by cook extraordinaire Ruth Shannon, including lunch in a basket, which is brought to your room; there's no washing up to do, no cleaning: the lovely housekeepers Mary and Georgina even do your laundry for
Lunch basket
you. There really are no distractions and no excuses not to write. So, during the month I either worked in my room - which I loved - or a couple of times I went to the library, which is in the grounds but in a separate, purpose-built building. It's a lovely, quiet space with a number of rooms with tables and shelves filled with books, a lot of which are signed (among the ones I spotted were plays signed by Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter). If I was tired or needed to stretch my legs, I would go on one of the walks near the castle - my favourite of which was the Castle Walk, which is a circular route of about twenty minutes or so: a beautiful walk near the River Esk with trees and mossy paths underfoot. I found the walk really refreshing, especially if I was struggling with my work, which happened every now and again. After a day of writing and solitude, it was lovely to meet up with the other writers for dinner in the evening and chat over some of the most delicious food I've ever had (some of the dishes included scallop chowder, prawn and mushroom risotto, plum and marzipan pie, apple crumble, amongst others - although the star of the show was Ruth's fish pie: heavenly. It's well worth getting hold of her cookbook here if you fancy giving some of her recipes a try).

I only left the castle and its grounds to visit nearby Rosslyn Chapel (of Da Vinci Code fame) and to
The Hawthornden Effect: very true
go into Edinburgh a couple of times and it was nice to do that after a couple of weeks of intense rewriting. Over the month I managed to edit/rewrite half of my novel - so around 30,000 words - and I certainly feel as if it's in much better shape than it was when I went. It was great to be away from the internet, television - all those little things that drag on your attention and take you away from your work.

I'm hugely grateful to the fellowship founder and owner of the castle, Mrs Drue Heinz, and the application committee for inviting me along... as well as to Hamish, Mary, Georgina and Ruth for looking after us all so well. Unfortunately you can't apply for another five years after you've been but I'd certainly love to go again if I'm able to: Hawthornden gives you a room of your own and much, much more.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


The first draft of the novel is done. It's been a hard slog - at times painful, at times enjoyable - but it's done. There's still a long way to go - there's lots of editing and redrafting to do - so I'm not celebrating just yet. Well, not properly. I have lots of work ahead including the three REs - research, restructuring and rewriting. As for research, I did some before but now I know what the story is I know what I need to get more information on; restructuring - lots of moving things about, putting characters into the past who are in the present, and so on; rewriting - adding words, taking words away (the delightful 'kill your darlings' time), improving or smoothing over what is already there (sanding away any words that snag). As has been said many times before by other writers - writing is editing. But when you're dealing with a novel-sized beast rather than a short story-sized one, it's a bit more daunting, mainly because there can be ramifications to your edits (as with the butterfly effect - the theorised flapping of the butterfly's wings leading to the possible formation of hurricanes). But before all of that a bit of distance, a bit of down time and then... back in for the second round.

Monday, 20 January 2014


Seeing as I haven't updated this blog in a while, here's a little round-up of what's been going on over the past couple of months. On 27th November I took part in a reading for Red Room at Blackburn Library along with Elizabeth Baines, Sarah Dobbs and Carys Davies. The event was a huge success with a warm and engaged audience of Bronte lovers and it was particularly nice to chat to people afterwards - including a couple of people who decided to challenge themselves and re-read Jane Eyre before coming along. Here are a few photos from the night:
Sarah Dobbs
Carys Davies

Elizabeth Baines

It was a really lovely event and so nice to have so many Bronte fans in the audience. Thanks to Derren Lee Poole Photography for the images from the night.

Then on 11th December I went along to Radio Lancashire to talk to Gilly on his afternoon show. He asked me questions about some of the stories in the collection and how it all came about. He also asked me which was my favourite story, which I managed to dodge (I don't have a favourite, of course - they're all great). I've been on Gilly's show before - a couple of years earlier to talk about my short story collection. I think I found it more daunting this time around because it's fairly easy to waffle on about your own writing but a bit more difficult when you're talking about the work of other writers.

The new year brought with it a little more Red Room with a signing at Waterstones York on Saturday (18th January). I was accompanied by contributors Elizabeth Baines and Bill Broady and enjoyed chatting to the two of them as well as those who bought and had copies signed. Elizabeth also kindly handed out leaflets to drum up support so I'm really grateful to her for doing that.

Other than that I'm just on with the novel and also writing a piece for the Thresholds short story website, where Red Room is currently the featured publication.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Great night at the Portico

I had a lovely evening last night at the Portico Library, Manchester, to help celebrate the publication of Red Room. Elizabeth Baines, Bill Broady, Vanessa Gebbie, Rowena Macdonald and Felicity Skelton were all there, to either read extracts or full stories, and a good crowd of people turned up to listen to them. I gave a quick introduction to the book and then introduced everyone and it was a real treat to hear the writers reading out their work... something which always fascinates me because stories often sound quite different when read aloud. Everyone did a sterling job and it was lovely to see copies of the book being snapped up afterwards.

Here are some photos from the night:

Bill Broady
Elizabeth Baines
Felicity Skelton

Rowena Macdonald

Vanessa Gebbie
Thanks to everyone who came along - writers and audience alike - and to the staff at the beautiful Portico Library for having us. If you'd like to get hold of a copy of the book, it's available from all the usual suspects as well as from the publisher, Unthank Books.

* Thanks also to the Word Factory, London, who invited Bill Broady along to read from the book at the end of October. I couldn't go along myself but I heard it was a great night.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Word Factory

I'm very excited that Red Room is going to get its first public airing tonight at the Word Factory salon in London. Bill Broady is going to be reading from his story 'Heathcliff versus Sherlock Holmes' and I'm sure it will go down a treat. It's a very funny story - one that I actually laughed out loud at the first time I read it - so I hope everyone enjoys it. If you're going along to the event, then copies of Red Room will be for sale and, as well as Bill, there will be some other contributors in the audience so get them to sign your copy. There are more Red Room events planned next month and a signing in January, but I'll give an update on those soon.