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Monday, 12 December 2016

Ink Tears Launch!

Launch cupcakes!

It was a long haul from our village to London, especially in festive Friday afternoon traffic, but every mile was worth it. At The Sun pub in Covent Garden, we filled the cosy room upstairs with our books and cupcakes, but most importantly, it was filled to capacity with lovely, kind people who came to support Llama Sutra and When Planets Slip Their Tracks.

Many thanks go to Sara-Mae Tuson, editorial director at InkTears, and Agnes Meadows from Loose Muse for all their enthusiasm and hard work organising and hosting the event.

Melanie's beautiful book, Llama Sutra, with stunning cupcakes

Although I was meeting Melanie Whipman for the first time, I immediately felt as if we had known each other forever. Writers often have an instinctive connection with one another, but Melanie is so lovely, it would be impossible for anyone not to be entranced by her straightaway. She and I both read from our books and the audience was incredibly warm and responsive. I had found it hard to choose which story to read and the one I eventually picked demanded my dodgy northern accent. (Had to apologise to anyone hailing from Bradford.)

When Planets Slip Their Tracks with their matching (only slightly dog-eared) cupcakes, which somehow survived the journey. Melanie brought hers on the train without mishap!

I loved every minute of reading aloud and then socialising and signing books afterwards. I was overwhelmed to meet in real life some very lovely Twitter friends and fabulous fellow writers. Thank you so much to the brilliant and lovely Fiona Mitchell, CG Menon and Sarah Hegarty. I was truly overjoyed to see you there and hope we meet again soon.

Mel and I with each other's books. I'm so looking forward to reading Llama Sutra.

I was very touched and thrilled to see my cousins, Brenda and Andrea, at the event too. Staunch supporters of both my books, they have suffered a heartbreaking event this year, so to see them set aside everything they are going through to be there for Planets meant the world to me. And long-standing (I didn't say old!) friends, Ian and Janet, who were the usher and bridesmaid at my wedding thirty-two million years ago, have also been an absolute pillar of support and it was truly wonderful that they could come too.

The hubster, Adrian, did all the driving - six hours of it, including an unscheduled U-turn in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, during which, incredibly, no one hooted us. Our three daughters came with us as well, having helped with all the preparations. I know that not all writers have this amount of family support, so I feel blessed and grateful to them all for never failing to be enthusiastic. I don't really deserve it - I didn't even think to bring any food with us (apart from the hallowed cupcakes) and as soon as we pulled up in Drury Lane the girls made an emergency dash to Pret.

Thank you to our daughters, Georgia, Alexandra and Olivia, for always being there.

Books are the perfect companion for solitude, but this event was a great example of how reading also brings people together. The old-fashioned way of story-telling by reading aloud was so well received, with several people saying afterwards how relaxing and comforting it was to be read to and how it reminded them of the quiet afternoons at infant/junior school, just before home-time, when the teacher's voice softened and everyone calmed down from the excitement of the day.

Having the time of my life reading from Planets

I had a fabulous surprise when I arrived home - a very positive review from the lovely author and reviewer, Jen Campbell (no relation). She has a very informative, entertaining and highly regarded YouTube channel where she talks engagingly and intelligently about the great variety of books she reads. I was thrilled enough that she was keen to read Planets, but when I saw her speak with such enthusiasm about it here, it was the icing on the cake.

Thank you so much to all my friends and family who have showed such support for me and my writing throughout the year. Writers may disappear to work alone throughout all their early drafts, but they can't share their words single-handedly.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Ink Tears Launch

On December 9th Ink Tears are launching Melanie Whipman'a short story collection, Llama Sutra and my own When Planets Slip Their Tracks will have its (slightly belated!) launch at the same time!

The event takes place at The Sun pub in Covent Garden from 7.30 until 10.30 in the evening and both Melanie and I will be reading excerpts from our collections.

We would love to see you there for a glass of wine to celebrate the occasion.

Thursday, 29 September 2016


Fellow writer, the lovely and talented Julia Anderson, whose stories, flash fiction, poetry, essays and features have found success in many different publications and competitions, has written a magnificent essay about When Planets Slip Their Tracks, which has been published on the Thresholds website.

I am indebted to Julia, both for her support and enthusiasm for the collection and also for the care and insight with which she has analysed the stories.

Holding the book in my hand for the first time was a magical moment, but even more thrilling is the discovery that it has given pleasure. That Julia was interested enough to break down and examine the stories in detail has brought not only a sense of validation for the book, but also, since a writer's primary mission is to engage the reader, a welcome fulfilment of purpose.

With grateful thanks to Julia for writing the essay and to Thresholds for publishing it.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Stepping forward, with caution

For two weeks I have written only in my head. Not by choice. For the first time since I began writing, I found myself restless at my desk, needing to let the characters for my next novel emerge without words. So I have walked around the village, letting them in.

Here is Woolley cantering towards me to bring back down to earth, carrots being more substantial than thoughts.

Where are my carrots?

At first I panicked, but it seems the words will arrive late to the party. For now, the whole book is an all-consuming abstract, the excitement growing as it takes on a shape. The process is beginning to produce the same - if slightly more unnerving - thrill.

I never make a plan and this is not what I'm doing now. Nothing is outlined, nothing moulded. There are no pre-cast sections or defined set-pieces. But there is a vague structure going up, a growing tension, a sense of pace. There are characters with faces and voices. There is the all-important theme, in this case the desire to protect your loved ones at all costs, which will gather the different elements together, the way a magnet attracts scattered iron filings.

Not sitting down and committing it to the screen is frustrating for someone who is criminally impatient and usually chooses to type from dawn to dusk, but I believe I understand the reason why I can't take it to the desk yet. It is because my recently completed novel was such a joy to write. Words cascaded like juice from a cut grapefruit and the entire story simply pooled together by itself. This is the encapsulated theme:

Desperate to tell those we love the truth, how many lies do we tell ourselves?

Even if it never sees the light of day, it will have been worth writing, purely for the wonder of watching it burst into life. There was not a single moment when it didn't bring pleasure to sit down and work on it. And I want so much to have the same experience this time.

These fifty-one steps lead from the village wells to the church and I only ever climb up.  Descending makes me think I will fall.

Treading with care and taking my time might not, ultimately, put me on the right path, but for now, it is the only way forward.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Spouting Forth

This summer I was lucky enough to be interviewed by the lovely Grace Palmer and to read extracts from both my books at the July NovelNights event in the beautiful Strawberry Thief Bar in Bristol.

The theme for July was the road trip novel and the place was packed. What a wonderful audience they were, so warm and welcoming. They asked lots of good questions too and I could have talked all night!

NovelNights is a brilliant monthly event and guest authors, Mike Manson, Kathryn Hind, Jean Burnett and Lizzie Parker, were all reading from their road-trip novels. It was a great honour that Tying Down The Lion was featured and that I was also invited to talk about my short story writing as well.

Answering the insightful questions, both from Grace and the gorgeous audience

In other writing news, I was very grateful to be interviewed recently by the wonderful author, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn, for The Short Story website, and answered some more thought-provoking questions about writing both short stories and novels.

And yesterday, in a break from writing, we had a family outing to the inspirational Witley Court ruins with its huge and stunning fountain of Perseus and Andromeda, which bursts into life on the hour. A stunning spectacle.

Middle daughter, Olivia, dwarfed by the stunning fountain in full swing

Adrian, Olivia and youngest daughter,Georgia

I hope you are all having a glorious summer too.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Finchley Literary Festival 2016

The lion sleeps tonight...

At the 2016 Finchley Literary Festival, I was given the honour of announcing the top three stories from the Greenacre Writers & Finchley Literary Festival Short Story Competition. Judging the twelve shortlisted stories was an absolute pleasure and I read and re-read them many times before making the final choices. You can see the results and read my thoughts here.

Announcing the results...

I read out the winning story, 'The Sender of Second Chances', by Anthea Morrison. James Woolf, who came second, gave a beautiful reading of his haunting 'The Wondwossi Hotel Bar'.

Afterwards, I gave a presentation (part of which will become a future post) about how my shyness stopped being a hindrance when writing fiction gave me the perfect excuse to lock myself away from the world - not quite in a bell tower like Dr Seuss, who was frightened of the children for whom he wrote - and find validity in being a quiet person.

I discussed a variety of research methods, which included the purchase of communist chocolate bars, and the stretching of the imagination beyond the limits of knowledge and experience. I also delved into my endless thoughts on the explosive, raw power of the short story and read an extract from my collection. (A few days later, I was overjoyed to discover that When Planets Slip Their Tracks had been shortlisted for The Rubery Book Award.)

As if I hadn't already had the time of my life, I was also given the opportunity to sign copies of both my books. When I do this, I can never quite believe I really am the author, as if I am doing something illicit.

Me with Rosie Canning...

...and with Lindsay Bamfield

Afterwards, Antonia Honeywell and Rosie Canning gave an entertaining, insightful and sensitive presentation about Orphans in Fiction with readings from some of the classics as well as The Ship, Antonia's debut novel and The Dolls' Hospital, her novel in progress. She talked about the idea that being orphaned in real life is a tragic and frightening situation, whereas in literature it becomes a platform from which the character can aspire to launch a heightened quality of life.

The festival had such a warm atmosphere and the audience was so receptive that, along with the very warm welcome I received from Rosie Canning, Lindsay Bamfield and Carol Sampson  - how good it was to meet you all in real life! - it was a wonderful, uplifting day. Thank you so much.

My East German chocolate

Monday, 4 July 2016


I'm really thrilled that the lovely Grace Palmer at Novelnights has invited me to talk about Tying Down The Lion as part of The Road Trip Novel Author Talk.

It takes place on July 21st at The Strawberry Thief Bar in Bristol and there will also be extracts from road trip novels by Mike Manson, Kathryn Hind, Lizzie Parker and Jean Burnett.

I'll be talking about how I embarked on the long road to publication via memories of the year I lived in Germany, my research into the history of Berlin and the vital feedback I received from the literary consultancy who helped shape my lengthy, floundering draft into a novel. And I'll be answering questions and reading extracts.

Can I keep talking for so long? I asked my husband.

He didn't think I'd have a problem with that.

I can hardly wait!