Monday, 24 March 2014


  • STOP IN THE RIGHT PLACE. Make sure that whenever you were last writing you stopped at an interesting point. This means that you'll be eager to continue when you get back to it.
  • GET INTO THE ZONE. Read through the latest two or three pages (or even more) of what you've written - this will take you away from what's happening around you, and into the world of the story you're creating. 
  • DANGLE A CARROT. Make an agreement with yourself that after you've written a certain number of words you'll give yourself a present - a coffee, something good to eat, chocolate, anything you enjoy...
  • SET YOURSELF A TARGET - "I'll write ... words in the next 30 minutes" - and keep to it. Don't delete anything, just write. It might just remind your brain that that is what you want it to be doing at the moment.
  • FOCUS ON ONE OF YOUR CHARACTERS. If you absolutely cannot write any prose, take one of your characters and compose his/her complete life history. Birthplace, childhood, events that happened at school, in teens, first love, likes and dislikes, etc.
  • WALK AWAY WITH A PROMISE. If you can't even motivate yourself to do this, then walk away AFTER promising yourself that you will come back after a certain time and write for at least 30 minutes.
  • VISUALISATION.  Picture your finished book - edited, printed, cover designed, blurb written, complete.

Thursday, 27 February 2014


Image courtesy of Winnond/

Unless your story happens all in one day, it's inevitable that you'll be moving from one period of time to another. And, of course, you need to let your reader know that you have jumped forward - maybe only a day or two, maybe months or years.
How do you do this?
I think it's perfectly okay to write "Two days later..." or "Six weeks later..." or "The next month..." to indicate how far on the story has moved. But it's probably not a good idea to use the same phrases over and over again, all the way through.
Here's a list of possible alternatives I sometimes resort to. If you have some other ideas please add them to the list, or email me and I'll do it - let me know if you'd like your name and/or blog or website details added too.

  • A year passed. It was a happy one, punctuated by...
  • Day followed day, week followed week until...
  • It was a another week/month/year before...
  • Towards the end of that week/month/year
  • For almost 2/3/4 months... 
  • By the time summer/her birthday/Christmas had arrived...
  • During the days/weeks/months that followed
  • By June that year...
  • In the middle of November, three weeks later...
  • Over the next few months...
  • The weeks dragged on...
  • By the time...
  • She was glad when that particular day/week/month/year was over...
  • One Saturday in July they heard...
  • Once back at...she started to....
  • It wasn't long after...
  • Time dragged by until...
  • When they were home again...
  • It was a long summer... 
  • It didn't seem possible that a whole month/year had gone by since...
  • Nothing had changed since her last visit six months earlier...
  • She could remember when...
  • She had only been nine or ten when...
  • That had been the year (some event occurred)
  • In her mind she was back at...
  • That had been before...had even thought of...
  • If she'd only known then...
  • The trees around the farm were taller...
  • She closed her eyes and was almost immediately back...
  • It had been a long time before...
  • The years fell away...
  • It had been during the Summer of...
  • It was strange to think her own grandmother had once stood here...
  • It was a smell/sound/tune that always made her think/reminded her...
  • She read through her diary of (year)...
  • She looked at the childish writing at the beginning of the book...
  • She picked up the photograph...

Monday, 17 February 2014


How Do You Balance Writing With Everything Else In Your Life?
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti/

The other day I read an interview with US novelist Charles Sheehan-Miles. He has self-published 12 novels and writes 3000 words every single day "come what may". Here's the link to the interview.

In reply to the question "How do you get/stay in creative mode? he replied "Sometimes I struggle with this, because day-to-day life can interfere. As a self-employed indie author, I have to produce books. I can't take a break, or a vacation, or a sabbatical, because if I don't publish, I don't get paid. So I meditate, I day dream about my stories, I think about them when I'm going to sleep and when I'm waking up, and I set a goal of writing three thousand words a day no matter what."

I admire his dedication and his self-discipline, but I think I would find such self-denial difficult to achieve.
3000 words are a lot to write in a day - at least, I think so. I've occasionally managed that many - when everything is flowing, when words and sentences present themselves rather than having to be searched for. But more often it is probably between 700 and 1,700. So although 3000 words are do-able, for me they wouldn't be do-able day after day after day. To achieve that number of words daily I'd have to:

  • write without correcting, not use a thesaurus, not regularly check over what I'd written , not do any deleting, & etc. All this stuff takes time and fiddling about. (Although, actually, I do think it's a good way to write - just let it all come out, and do all the correcting, changing words and what have you when you've finished). 
  • go into machine mode
  • probably not eat for quite some time
  • avoid all distractions, such as taking out  the washing that I'd put in machine before I marched into writing room to commence day's work, and which I'd forgotten to ask husband to take out because of fierce concentration on forthcoming writing. Hence, washing would moulder in machine until one of us remembered it was there. There would be no answering the phone; no opening door to courier/postman who was bringing the urgent birthday present I'd bough online; no staring out of the window at the sky/trees/birds for inspiration or a simple re-charge; no getting up for walk around to avoid stiff knees ...

Charles Sheehan-Miles sounds remarkably hard-working and strong-willed, and I'm glad for him that he's had twelve books published. I'm sure he would say that his goal of 3000 words a day is partly responsible - we all know how important it is to set goals. But I think it's rather sad that he feels he can't take a break or a holiday. Unless of course, he's not too bothered about breaks and holidays, in which case, it doesn't matter.

He speaks about "day-to-day life" interfering.  But that's what life does, doesn't it, unless we writers lock ourselves away alone in a cell somewhere and throw away the key.

Writing isn't separate from my life, it's a precious part of it. But I don't want to let it be my life. I'm passionate about it, I love it, it fulfils me, but it's not the only thing in life that I love, am passionate about and fulfilled by.

"In order to write about life first you must live it."  Ernest Hemingway

"Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy." Stephen King, On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft

And however you do it, however many words you write in a day, however many goals you achieve, or don't, however self-disciplined you are, or aren't - writing is utterly wonderful, and I love it!

Thursday, 30 January 2014


simple snowflake graphic
I've just read the following article by Richard Denning about using the Snowflake Technique to plot and write a novel.

I thought it was fascinating - have a look and see what you think

Monday, 20 January 2014


I've just finished reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (magical) and in the 'Conversation with the Author' section at the back, she mentions something that Isak Dinesen, who wrote Out of Africa once said:
"All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them."

So true. And it made me think how powerful words, and writing them down, can be - even if we don't tell a story.

Even if you only write a list, you'll no doubt have experienced the relief, and ease of mind that can come with moving something from your mind, out onto a piece of paper.

Everyone will have been through tough times in life, and sometimes, carrying sadness or troubles inside can be too weighty to bear. Turning those feelings into words can truly lighten the load.

And if you can tell a story at the same time, so much the better, although I think you'd have to be careful to find the right balance between emotional outpouring and creative construction.

Ever since I was given a Five Year Diary when I was thirteen, I've kept a journal, and it's true that whenever I've been through difficult times, writing things down has always been a relief and a help.

I volunteer for Cruse, (a UK charity offering free bereavement counselling) and I often suggest to people who are grieving, or/and angry or going through one or several of the emotions that follow the loss of someone loved, that they try writing their feelings down. Or maybe writing down the words they never spoke, but always wanted to, to the ones they loved and who are now gone.

Graham Greene wrote: "Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation."

Ah yes, the wonderful power of words, and writing - where would we be without them?

Friday, 3 January 2014

Friendship, Books and The Secret Life of Bees

Here's a little story of love and friendship.

One of those vicious viruses (?viri?) decided to visit our house this Christmas and has decided it doesn't want to leave.

My husband and I have been wandering around like zombies for the past week or so, listless and coughing, sneezing and hacking, and generally looking like a pair of pale, hollow-faced frights!

Our friends, Danielle and Richi,  rung us on 1st January to wish us a Happy New Year, and during conversation we explained that we haven't been/aren't feeling so good.

The next day, they turned up on our doorstop to wish us well and bring us a Bag of Goodies. Inside there was a bottle of rum, a jar of Manuka honey and some lemons. This was to make Danielle's "Grog"  - large shot of rum, hot water,  lemon juice and a spoonful of honey or brown sugar - to be taken with an aspirin. Also in the bag were some satsumas, a pack of croissants, and a packet of Choco Leibniz biscuits - those delicious plain buttery biscuits with dark chocolate spread over the top.

And there was one more present, wrapped up, at the bottom of the bag. "All the other stuff is good for the body", said Danielle as she and Richi waved us goodbye. "But that is good for the soul".

When I opened it, there was a copy of The Secret Life of Bees.  And there was also a beautiful handmade "Get Well" card.

I can think of so many books that are 'good for the soul' and I'm looking forward to reading this one - I've seen the film and have been meaning to read the book for a long time. I can't imagine a world without books, or the effect a 'bookless' world would have on our souls' well-being.

But neither can I imagine a world without the warmth and love of friendship, of people who care enough and take the time to bring brightness into grey days.

So here's to Friends, Grog, 2014 and all the books we have yet to read...

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Christmas extract from book-in-progress

I was wondering what I could write that would have some relation to Christmas, and suddenly thought of "the Christmas oranges" piece from Chapter 8 of my book-in-progress - provisionally entitled Pendipper (although the title could change, I haven't decided for sure).
The story begins in 1941 when Jean Swallow leaves London to work as a land girl at Pendipper, a farm near St Noyes* in Cornwall owned by the Tillyman family. The various relationships that she builds with each member of this family forge connections that remains strong, and have a powerful influence on the rest of her life. Although Jean eventually returns to London, and decades pass by, the link with the Tillymans, and Pendipper is never broken.
Jean marries Will, one of the Tillyman sons, but her friendship with Lilian, Will's sister, is equally as significant, despite the fact that the two women have utterly different personalities: Jean, bright and easy-going, Lilian, proud and intolerant. And it is this arrogant pigheadedness that will not allow Lilian to forgive her other brother and their uncle, when their collusion means that the family farm has to be sold.
This is a compelling tale of a family unfolding over the years. Of wartime struggles. Of life on a Cornish farm and life in London. Of two women's friendship. Of unforgiveness that turns into bitterness and resentment. Of tragedy. Of love.

Here's "the Christmas oranges" extract.

…after the King’s speech was over, Lilian went out to the scullery and came back with two oranges.
‘Lilian!’ exclaimed Jean gleefully. ‘Where the heck did you get hold of those? Blimey, I can’t remember when I last saw an orange!’
‘They had some in the market when we went up to Plymouth last week,’ said Lilian. ‘There weren’t many and we were only allowed two each. The lady behind me in the queue had the last of them, so I was only just in time. I didn’t even know what I was queueing for to start with, but I guessed it was something good.’
‘You clever girl,’ said Evalina. ‘What a lovely surprise.’
‘Ooh, smell that smell,’ Jean purred ecstatically, as she began peeling one of the oranges and a fine spray of citrusy fragrance hit her nostrils. ‘All we want now is a few bananas and we’ll be well away.’
‘They’re those long, yellow things, aren’t they?’ joked Samuel. There had been no bananas in the shops for years, and although he knew he’d recognise one if he saw it, Samuel was hard put to remember exactly what one tasted like.
After the oranges had been peeled and divided up, and Aunt Ellen had reminded Lilian to keep the peel to grate and put into a pudding, all the segments were laid out onto a plate. There were three pieces each, with two left over.
‘You and Raymond have the extra,’ said Evalina. ‘You deserve it, Lilian, for all the work you’ve done. That dinner was delicious.’
‘No,’ said Lilian decisively. ‘I think we should keep them for Will and John.’
‘But Lilian, dear…’ Evalina began.
‘I know,’ Lilian interrupted. ‘They might not be back for ages. But it’ll be a symbol. I know it might sound stupid, but when they’re home we can give them their pieces of orange and we’ll be able to look back on today and be thankful it’s all over and…well…just be thankful.’
Jean leaned across and gave Lilian a warm kiss. ‘That is a flipping brilliant idea,’ she said. 'You're more sentimental than you make out, Lilian.'
The oranges, in some unfathomable way, had managed to dispel the undercurrent of sadness that had been rippling quietly amongst the family all day long. And the feelings of anger that had been gnawing at Jean – mostly directed towards the War, but also, unfairly, at Will himself for not being there to share the twins’ first Christmas – had shrivelled up and gone. Lilian was right: the oranges were a symbol; a representation of faith that one day, in the hopefully not too faraway future, normality would return, the family would be complete, and there would be icing on the Christmas cake.
As Jean ate her orange segments, savouring each tiny mouthful, she remembered how her brother had once told her that if she wanted something strongly enough, and if she truly believed she’d get it, then she would do. It had been on a Christmas Eve when they were children, and they had been talking about the presents they were hoping to receive. Eric had been desperately hoping for a bicycle, and although his father had explained that there wasn’t enough money for bicycles, Eric had gone on believing that on Christmas Day, his hope would be fulfilled. And, miracle of miracles, it had been!
Jean had been thrilled for her brother, and awestruck that his trust in the power of unshakeable belief had been confirmed. But she could also remember thinking, “What about all the other children who were hoping and wishing for things and then didn’t get them?” Was it because they hadn’t believed hard enough, or was it simply that, however hard you tried, sometimes believing didn’t work?
When it comes down to it, Jean thought, her tongue sucking into the tangy sweetness of the orange, all you can do is hope for the best. I want my husband back, and Susie and Tony their father, and Evalina and Samuel their sons, and Ellen her nephews and Lilian her brothers – the same as hundreds and thousands of others do. Everyone is hoping for the best, and believing as hard as they can. And everyone is waiting, because that’s all they can do.
And waiting, thought Jean, is the hardest bloody part of all.

* St Noyes doesn't actually exist, but I visualise it as being on the edge of Bodmin Moor, somewhere between Liskeard and Launceston.

Wishing everyone a peaceful
and happy Christmas
and all you wish for in 2014

Images courtesy of