Tag Archives: Authors

GUEST POST: Plotting A Novel, by Val Penny

Fellow Swanwick regular Val Penny shares her thoughts about how to go about that thing we call plotting…

Plotting is central to writing a novel, but it is a highly individual process. No two authors plot in the same way. Some plot organically while others plot in a very orderly fashion. Many writers even plot differently from one book to another.

Some write scenes: hundreds of scenes that interest and excite them and then they stitch the scenes together to from the novel. While others visualise the way the book will take shape using dozens of bits of paper laid out on their desk or even on the floor. It must be important to make sure the windows are closed if you plot this way! Some authors use tree diagrams, spreadsheets or mind-maps to plot and there is software available to download online for this.

However you plot your novel, the goal is the same, to allow the journey it is about take that will last several months on the road with a novel. It is important that you, as an author, choose between the ‘organic’ and ‘orderly’ methods of plotting so that you are comfortable that your choice works best for you and the book you are setting out to write.

I plotted my first novel Hunter’s Chase organically but, after attending a course run by Sue Moorcroft at last years’ Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, I plotted the sequel ‘Hunter’s Revenge’ using diagrams and spreadsheets. Neither is wrong. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and either can be successful for crafting a novel.

Writers who follow an organic way of plotting approach the outline largely as a form of awareness of the story, rather than as an actual document to be followed strictly. Many view the the outline not so much as a planning device but more of an analytical tool that helps strengthen the final draft by indicating the flaws in the story-line.

Some authors begin with an idea and just jump in to tell the story. They write steadily and regularly until they have written tens of thousands of words. Then they go through the organic draft and delete large chunks and add other pieces until the final manuscript is complete.

Other authors, like Sue Moorcroft, plot meticulously and there is no doubt that plotting an outline is hard work. However, having undertaken an outline on Hunter’s Revenge, I found myself into writing my novel with confidence. I was happy that one chapter followed another in a sensible sequence. My characters retained their identities. Of course, at the end of the first draft there were flaws, but I found I was able to repair those readily.

Whether you plot organically or in an orderly fashion, the important issue is that you can tell the story to your readers and that you, and they, are satisfied by your novel.

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You can find Val Penny in any of these online locations:

On her website here;

On Facebook here, and also to follow progress with her detective series here;

On Twitter here.

 

10 Highlights of Swanwick 2017

Goodness! Swanwick seems like such a long time ago now. It’s crazy how just six weeks ago today, I was sat in the foyer at The Hayes putting together welcome packs for all the delegates.

If, like me, you’re already excited for the 2018 school, here’s another story from fellow Swanwicker Elizabeth Hopkinson to help fill the darkening days of Autumn:

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School really is the week that keeps on giving.

I first attended twelve  years ago and every year something has happened there to change my writing life. 2017 has been the best year of all, with so many good things to take away and follow up at home. My writing year is already different because of Swanwick.

Here are 10 highlights:

1. Winning 2nd Prize in the Short Story Contest. Not only did I take home a fabulous (if heavy) framed certificate, but also a free critique from Writing Magazine. And during the week, I was able to chat to Jonathan Telfer of Writing Magazine about the best way to use it.

Congratulations to Elizabeth, who won second prize in the Swanwick Short Story Competition for 2017.

2. Running my own contest via the Swanwick Facebook group, to name the children’s’ novel that provided our cat Sootica’s name. (Sootica the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams). The prize was a proof copy of my short story collection, Tales from the Hidden Grove, for which I now have an extra reviewer!

3. My 1-1 with John Lamont. Thanks to his advice, I have already begun to visualise the future I want. (Although I did get some funny looks photographing myself in Waterstones for the new Pinterest board!)

4. An invitation to join Yorkshire Writers’ Lunch in Huddersfield.

5. The tag line to my trilogy-in- progress brilliantly nailed by another Swanwicker over dinner: “The Magic Flute meets Farinelli Il Castrato”.

6. Getting a wheelchair-using beta reader for my trilogy. He read the first book in just a couple of days!

7. The opportunity to be part of Chasing Unicorns, a charity anthology in memory of former Swanwick chairman, Katy Clarke.

8. Procrastination-Free Day. I didn’t have the stamina to go past 2:30, but I got so many plot problems fixed. And I got stickers!

9. Learning how to be a journalist with Simon, on the Swanwick Standard. I wrote a piece for my local paper as soon as I got home.

10. Being able to revisit Swanwick whenever I want, thanks to Steve Barnett’s YouTube videos.

Thanks again, Swanwick! You’ve been amazing!

Elizabeth Hopkinson has had over 60 short stories published and won several prizes. Her first novel Silver Hands was published by Top Hat Books in 2013 and this year she has published an ebook of previously-published stories, Tales from the Hidden Grove. Elizabeth is a regular member of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, where she has led a number of workshops. She lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK, with her husband, daughter and cat, in a tiny house that is being taken over by books and artwork.

Website: elizabethhopkinson.uk
Twitter: @hidden_grove
Facebook: ElizabethHopkinsonAuthor
Blog: hiddengroveextra.blogspot.co.uk
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/3029262.Elizabeth_Hopkinson

Newsletter: tinyletter.com/hiddengrove
Patreon: patreon.com/elizabethhopkinson

Lizzie Borden Comes to Swanwick – Maggie Cobbett shares her fancy dress story from the 2017 school

Another stories from a fellow Swanwick alumnus. This week, it’s Maggie Cobbett’s turn, sharing with us her fantastic fancy dress outfit!

Shopping for fancy dress often turns up the unexpected. This year’s Wild Wild West theme seemed to call for Calamity Jane, Belle Starr or Minnehaha, but I fell in love straightaway with the axe murderess outfit based on the story of Lizzie Borden. (Yes, I know that she lived in Massachusetts. Surely some poetic licence is allowed at Swanwick discos?) The sleek black dress had long puffed sleeves and a high collar featuring a cameo brooch. It came with a voluminous net underskirt, lace-up waistcoat and mini hat with a half veil. The axe was an optional extra.

It wasn’t long after my arrival at The Hayes that certain drawbacks became apparent. The first of these was that I’d offered to co-host the Prose Open Mic, which was due to begin immediately after that evening’s speaker and would certainly overlap with the disco. With no time to change in between, I had to choose. The Lizzie Borden outfit won, of course, although I did get some odd looks in the Main Conference Hall during Cathy Cassidy’s talk on writing for children. Before that, though, there was the difficulty of actually getting into the dress with no one to help me. My room at the top end of Lakeside seemed curiously isolated. Having been told on several occasions that The Hayes was fully booked, I must have had neighbours, but I never saw or heard them. To add to the difficulty, the hearty nature of Swanwick food had started to have an effect on my already far from sylph-like figure. It took a series of painful contortions to squeeze myself into the dress and do up the long zip at the back. Fixated on the possibility of a ‘wardrobe malfunction’, I hardly dared to breathe out all evening.  The hat was a worry too. Held on with a wing, a prayer and a handful of hair grips, it obliged me to walk around like a Victorian schoolgirl in a deportment class. Did I mention that I was also wearing a pair of tight high heeled boots?

I hope that the writers who took part in the Prose Open Mic were not intimidated by the sight of me officiating with an axe in my hand as well as a borrowed egg timer and bell. Jennifer Wilson and I ran a tight ship and, by keeping to five minute slots, were just able to fit everyone in. The closest I got to the disco afterwards was the bar. I wouldn’t have dared to dance anyway, of course, but there was plenty of fun to be had admiring other people’s imaginative costumes and posing for photos

It’s just as well that I saved my energy for struggling out of the dress later on. Maybe I should have sought a volunteer to come to my room and unzip me but then again maybe not. We can’t all be as lucky as Poldark’s Demelza!

You can find Maggie at her online home here. She is also on Facebook.

A Swanwick Story: Patricia M. Osborne

In 2015, two members on a writers’ forum, Corinne Lawrence and Shirley Cook, tried to convince me to attend Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Patricia celebrates her debut novel, House of Grace.

Although I loved the sound of joining them, I dismissed it due to the long train journey and a connection change at London. In 2016, they tried to persuade me again and suggested I enter a poem to the annual writing competition to try and win a place. I sent in a poem leaving fate to decide whether I should go to Swanwick or not. However once Corinne and Shirley booked their places, their excitement was too infectious and before I knew it my place in Lakeside accommodation was secure.

Once my booking was made I set about requesting my dietary needs and Pauline Mason the secretary was more than helpful. I was ready for my journey. I’d booked the early coach from Derby Station but unfortunately my train let me down. Once again Pauline looked after me and booked me onto the later one. Thankfully I arrived in time and was met by the lovely Lesley Deschner. Both Pauline and Lesley are great ambassadors for Swanwick.

Unfortunately, I missed the welcome meeting for White Badgers but my writer friend, Corinne Lawrence was waiting to greet me. Both Shirley and Corinne looked out for me all week. It was fabulous to finally meet these two lovely ladies after sharing work over the previous two years.

At Swanwick I was never lonely. I was concerned that I may find it a bit intimidating with around two to three hundred delegates but in fact it still has that intimate family feel and sense of belonging. Everyone is so friendly and when it’s time to go home, no one wants to leave.

Ahead of the course, a brochure is sent out that contains the week’s programme with so many fantastic courses offering choice and variety, something for everyone. In fact it’s hard to choose a favourite. Existing Swanwickers love this moment and get out their highlighting pens with excitement. For my specialist course, I chose Alison Chisholm’s poetry and booked a one to one session for feedback. I recommend this to anyone who writes poetry.

While at Swanwick, for the first time ever, I took part in an Open Mic and again those experienced in Open Mics supported and gave me confidence. The fancy dress disco isn’t to be missed either. Last year’s theme was ‘Heroes’. I went as Cleopatra and loved dressing up. This year the theme was The Wild West.

Food is included with the accommodation booking: breakfast, lunch and dinner along with coffee and tea throughout the day. It’s a real treat if you’re the person at home who does all the cooking. Mealtimes are another chance to meet new faces and chat about writing. I stayed in Lakeside and found the rooms a decent size with reliable wifi and I had a comfortable double bed. I was only a few yards away from the lovely lakes. Lakes are one of my favourite places to be and where I find most of my writing inspiration.

This year I managed to recruit a couple of my own writer friends as white badgers. I looked forward to becoming a trailblazer and I was ready to make the newcomers feel at home in this beautiful Derbyshire setting where writers come together.

And let’s not forget the famous Swanwick bookshop. I was inspired by the volume of books written by Swanwick writers. Those who had gone down the Indie route were more than happy to advise how they went about self-publishing. It was this encouragement that pushed me to come home and get my act together with my debut novel, a family saga, House of Grace.

My second visit to Swanwick in 2017 was even better than my first. This was helped by meeting an online writer friend for the first time after working together for over six years. Swanwick is a place you meet old friends and new, have fun, learn, grow in confidence and do as little or as much as you like. You will hear people talk about the Swanwick Magic, they are not wrong.

I managed to release my novel in March 2017 and I was proud to see it in the Swanwick book room this year amongst those of other Swanwick authors. You never know, by 2018 I may have two novels in there.

You can find Patricia on Facebook and Twitter. Alternatively, her online home is here.

 

 

 

 

More Swanwick Memories: Jennifer Wilson

Continuing the theme of sharing stories from my favourite writing event of the year, I am joined today by Jennifer C. Wilson.

I remember meeting her in 2016 when, as a fresh-faced White Badger, Jennifer told me her story over a drink in the bar. I am absolutely thrilled that she returned to Swanwick in 2017, and she has kindly agreed to tell us why.

Swanwick Memories, by Jennifer C. Wilson

I’d been thinking about going to Swanwick for about eight years. Each year since signing up for an adult education creative writing class back in Hexham, I’d download the programme and even pick out the courses I’d go along to, and yet, never quite got as far as booking. Now, I know that being published isn’t even remotely hinted at as being a requirement to go to Swanwick, but after my debut novel came out in October 2015, I decided that I had finally ‘earned my place’, and in January 2016, finally went ahead and booked up. I am so glad I did.

With my usual lack of punctuality, I got to Derby station three hours before the coach to Swanwick was due, and still remember the blind fear on receiving the email advising that the bus was now going to be round the back of the station, not the front, and “to let people know” if we saw them at the station. Cue a very awkward half hour trying to work out who might be going to Swanwick, and who might just think I was weird for approaching them and talking about buses… Luckily, I found some fellow Swanwickers, and next thing I know, we’re nattering over a cuppa in the Pumpkin Café. Not only did they show me where the bus was, I was also escorted to the Lakeside Reception, shown how to find my room, then taken back across to the main house to find where the other White Badgers were being welcomed with a (by now much-welcomed) glass of wine.

The rumours were true then – Swanwick really was full of friendly, helpful people. Less than an hour after arriving, I definitely felt I belonged.

That feeling didn’t leave me throughout the week, as I met friends I’m still happy to be in touch with (and already looking forward to seeing them again in August 2018!), and enjoyed even the passing five minute conversations which seemed to happen every time you looked slightly confused or lost.

As for the courses and talks – I came away from each and every one feeling so inspired. Either to try something new, with a new idea to play with, or an increased understanding in how to improve what I was already working on. For my first year, I chose ‘creative non-fiction’ as my specialist course for the week, and have since produced a book proposal which I intend to keep working on, and thanks to Sue Moorcroft and Michael Jecks’ courses, the manuscript for my second novel felt so much tighter and improved, ready for submission. In my second year, I returned to Sue’s course, this time on popular fiction, and also enjoyed this blog owner’s fun and informative course on writing intimate scenes.

I think the biggest thing about Swanwick though is simply spending a whole week in the company of other writers. I’m lucky that my friends and family are really supportive of my writing, but there’s a limit to how much even the most supportive person can take! At Swanwick, everyone is more than happy to discuss (at length) the books they love and loathe, the writing techniques they use, and how they are getting on (or otherwise) with their latest project. I got as much from chatting over lunch and in the bar after workshops as I did from the courses themselves. The subsequent online chatter and support via the Facebook group is great too, keeping the community spirit going throughout the rest of the year.

After booking for August 2017, I had started thinking I would skip a year, try somewhere new, do something different. I won’t be. This year, bringing two writing friends along made the whole thing feel even more like a community, and by Sunday lunchtime, we’d agreed that it could become ‘our annual thing’. Seeing them be as excited as I had been last year was just brilliant. I even volunteered with one of the open-mic nights, so felt even more a part of things.

Yes, I’ve come away exhausted again, but hey, at least we have Saturday and Sunday to catch up on all that sleep we miss when our brains are too busy plotting…

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, and Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile was released in June 2017. She can be found online at her blog, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s blog. She’s currently working on her first self-published effort, a timeslip romance featuring Richard III (of course).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Swanwick Story: Julia Pattison

Regular visitors to this blog will be familiar with my frequent mention of a place called Swanwick, a village in Derbyshire, UK, and home to the longest-running (we believe) writing conference in the world.

It has been an integral part of my own writing journey and, since taking up the post of School Archivist last August, I was interested to learn how much the Writers’ School has influenced other delegates. So, I sent a request via the newsletter for people to share their stories.

The beautiful and inspirational Julia Pattison responded with this most unusual tale:

I first met Clifford Beck at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School back in 1999. He became a good friend, and over the years he’d tell me anecdotes of his time as a Far East Prisoner of War.

Julia with Clifford, Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, 2004

At Swanwick 2004 we were sat on our favourite bench enjoying a chat in the summer sunshine, when he mentioned that the following August 15th 2005, it would be the 60th Anniversary of VJ Day. With a deep sigh that touched my heart, he went on to say that it would be his dream to stand once again on the Bridge on the River Kwai, not as a prisoner this time, but as a free man.

He had planned to go with his wife Esther, but sadly she’d died some years previously, and his son Nick didn’t want to make the journey. On impulse, I said that we could make his special pilgrimage together the following Easter holiday, and the seeds for the journey were sown…

Not far short of his 90th birthday, his health had deteriorated considerably since our conversation that summer day at Swanwick, so although he had hoped to walk across the bridge, he was content to walk the few steps up to the entrance of the Bridge, where a kindly passing tourist took our photo to capture his dreamed- for moment. We then spent some time in the beautifully kept Kanchanaburi Cemetery where he said prayers over the graves of some of his fellow FEPOWs who had never made it home. Afterwards we were met by Rod Beattie, the founder of the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre ( honoured with the MBE for his research )  who gave us a private tour of the Centre. I recall that Clifford became particularly emotional when Rod took him into a reconstructed cattle truck, as it brought back vivid memories of his horrendous journey from Singapore.

The Bridge over the River Kwai

He never did get to Swanwick in 2005, or to go with me to the Beth Shalom Holocaust Memorial Centre near Laxton, Nottinghamshire, but died in June 2005. His son Nick comforted me by saying how much the trip had meant to his father, and that despite being so unwell, he had been determined to make the pilgrimage back to the Bridge on the River Kwai in March 20015 – probably with the same spirit that had stood him in such good stead during his time as a FEPOW. He had died a happy man, and had been looking forward to meeting everyone at his beloved Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Rest in Peace Clifford, a true officer and a gentleman, and an inspiration to all who knew him.

It was a privilege to help him fulfil his dream, and to record his story for the history archives.

Lest we forget.

Julia Pattison

You can purchase Clifford’s memoirs, written by Julia, at the Amazon UK store here.

The Tempest v Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood rewrites a Shakespeare masterpiece

As a Patron of the Royal Shakespeare Company, I am lucky enough to get advance notice of the next season’s productions and when I learned that the RSC were performing The Tempest, I was thrilled. It’s not a play I had seen before and nor did I know the story.

Imagine then, if you will, how excited I was to learn that one of my favourite authors, Margaret Atwood, had been commissioned to rewrite the story of The Tempest in novel form. Bingo!

The Tempest starts with a great storm, during which the King of Naples and his entourage, including the Duke of Milan, are shipwrecked. Watching this drama unfold is Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, and his daughter, Miranda.

It becomes clear that Prospero has conjured the storm himself with the help of the sprite, Ariel, because this group are his enemies. Indeed, the Duke of Milan is in fact his brother, Antonio, who betrayed him for the title of Duke some twelve years previously.

Now, to Hag-Seed. Our Prospero has become one Felix Duke, renowned theatre director who gets unceremoniously sacked and ends up working in a prison where he teaches Shakespeare to the inmates. His latest project is… Yup, you guessed it, The Tempest.

Felix’s Miranda is not real, she is a memory he has recreated and transposed into the present as a mechanism to deal with the grief at losing his daughter.

Estelle pulls strings for Felix, both inside the prison and in organising the visit of the politicos. She is the Ariel to Felix’s Prospero, creating the ‘storm’ which brings them to him.

Just like Prospero, Felix exacts his revenge during the production but afterwards feels strangely unfulfilled. The result is an anticlimax. What does this teach us about the nature of revenge, methinks? Is it really worth it? Or shall we just hold our heads high, despite the injustice inflicted by those who wronged us?

All in all, a fantastic production of The Tempest by the RSC, as one would expect, and an amazing work by Ms Atwood. Again, no surprises there. Well worth the time on both counts, if you have the opportunity.

Local SfEP Meetup – South Warwickshire Editors and Proofreaders

My journey into the ‘Dark Side’ continues!

I’m joking, of course. Editing other authors’ work is giving me valuable insight into how to improve my own writing. I am also finding that I am in a position to be able to advise fellow indie authors about their work, having been in their position.

Being the sociable creature I am, I was thrilled to learn that there is a local South Warwickshire group of SfEP members, so I went along to their bi-monthly meeting to say hello and find out more.

It turns out that there are other editors who walk the line between editing and writing, in fact it turns out that some of us have mutual friends in people I have met through going to Swanwick.

I look forward to meeting up regularly with this bunch, and sharing tips and stories. Watch this space!

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Chillin’ and chattin’ at The Lounge, Leamington Spa

 

Swanwick 2016 – The Magic Continues…

The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire
Swanwick Dinner
Communal dining room at the Hayes. Picture courtesy of Geoff Parkes (far left in the photo).

Sadly, I didn’t get to go to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in 2015. I had a very sick cat at home and no idea how long she had left on this mortal plane so, as heartbreaking as it was, I decided to stay with her in her final weeks. It was definitely the right decision.

No such emotional trauma this year, thankfully, and I couldn’t wait to bundle up the car and head off to Derbyshire for another memorable week of friendship nurturing and raucous laughter. I wasn’t disappointed.

After the initial settling in period, it was time to get my books across to the book room. This year was the first time I had my own book to sell, which was wonderful experience. So, too, for Mark Iveson and his non-fiction book Cursed Horror Stars.

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Mark Iveson and me, proudly displaying our own published books in the Swanwick Book Room for the first time.

The first full day saw me sat in a fascinating specialist course on Character Psychology with Steve Hartley. Such a great course, packed with interesting material for creating interesting characters for our stories.

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The incorrigible Phil Collins appreciating how I managed to pour myself into a corset!

Monday evening during Swanwick week features the infamous Fancy Dress Disco.

I do like this photo of me with dear friend Phil Collins. I can’t remember how much I had to drink by this point. I certainly wasn’t sober!

This year’s theme was Heroes and Villains. I chose Maleficent (any excuse to get out my corset); Phil’s pirate outfit turned a few heads too!

 

I set out to make sure I attended short courses which I felt would be of direct use to my own writing experience. This year, Michael Jecks gave phenomenal instructions about plotting and tips for bulldozing through writers’ block. I came away refreshed with lots of ideas for my novel.

Similarly, lovely Sue Moorcroft‘s course gave invaluable insight into the finer points of writing fiction. All in all, it was an exhilarating, if not exhausting, week of learning.

On the last day, after the AGM and the raffle to win a free place at Swanwick the following year, everyone disappeared back to their rooms to dress up for the Dregs Party. It’s a great excuse to bring out those cocktail dresses and a few of the guys even brought their tuxedos for the occasion.

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Dregs Party on the hallowed Swanwick lawn. Thankfully, the rain stayed away!

Some exciting things to note for me personally this year: I made my acting debut! A very small part during the renowned Page to Stage extravaganza was quickly followed on the last night by the Final Night Pantomime.

Written by Simon Hall, The Battle of Writers’ Block tells a humorous tale of an aspiring but self-conscious writer, Trevor, who is trying to write a novel. Haunted by the twin sisters of Doubt and Success, he is persuaded to take a trip to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, where he receives the inspiration to finish his story. Lots of gags and a healthy dose of innuendo had the audience howling with laughter, thankfully!

Cast of this year’s pantomime, The Battle of Writers’ Block, written by Simon Hall. L-R: Lesley Deschener, Phil Collins, me, Simon Hall, Cathy Grimmer, Marion Hough, John Lamont. Photo courtesy of Louise Cahill.

Finally, the opportunity came along for me to play a part in helping the school. The archivist was wanting to step down, and so a vacancy popped up for someone organised who can help collate all the various documents that Swanwick has amassed over its 68-year history. I am looking forward to taking on this challenge and I’m hoping to start getting it into some kind of electronic format soon.

Swanwick Lawn
Chatting on the lawn. Picture courtesy of Geoff Parkes

All in all, it was another fantastic Swanwick experience, full of friendships. Special thank you to Geoff Parkes for the use of a couple of his photographs in this post.

Hope to see you all next year for another week of writing mayhem!

Interview with Peter Jones, on the release of his novel: The Truth About This Charming Man

29103615Author Peter Jones has been a significant part of my writing journey. He was the guy I went to for help with formatting and uploading my very first offerings to the global phenomenon known as Amazon, which I did under my pseudonym.

Therefore, I am truly delighted that he has agreed to be interviewed for this blog and to talk about his new book The Truth about this Charming Man.

The novel charts the antics of one William Lewis, an aspiring actor, who has dreamed of treading the boards for about as long as he can remember. He has yet to be involved with the theatre, but he still manages to get to do something of what he loves by pretending to be people that he’s not in the real world.

It’s hilarious, well-written and kept me hooked until the very last page. A very solid 10/10 from me. Here’s what Peter had to say:

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Where do I begin?!

I started professional life as a particularly rubbish graphic designer, and followed that with a stint as a mediocre petrol pump attendant. After that I got embroiled in the murky world of credit card banking as a ‘fix-it’ man. Fun times.

For the past 6 years I’ve been a full time author, with three and a half self-help books under my belt (if you’re unhappy, lonely or overweight I might just be your guy), and more recently two hilarious rom-com novels.

I don’t own a large departmental store and I’m not a dragon of any description.

 

Can you describe a typical day for you?

Most days I’m writing. I like to be at my desk, working, by 7am. By midday I’m usually beat (creatively speaking). Afternoons are reserved for post, admin, social media, that kinda thing.

Once or twice a week I’m out giving a talk at a WI, or a U3A, or a writing group somewhere – entertaining people with tales of this writing life.

 

You wrote a few non-fiction self-help books before your move into the fiction market? What made you change? Was it a difficult transition?

It’s ironic. I never wanted to write self-help. That kind of happened by accident.

I was in the middle of writing my first novel (in the evenings, after work) when I lost my wife. As you can imagine that event turned my world upside down. Made me question what I wanted in life. Made me question everything.

I decided to take those fix-it man skills and apply them to my own life – to build the happier future that I so wished I’d given my wife. When some of the changes I came up with started to make an obvious difference to my demeanour a colleague suggested I ought to write those ideas down. Six months later I’d accidentally written How To Do Everything And be Happy. I self-published it (because I couldn’t be bothered with the effort of sending it to agents and publishers), and it did well. Really well. Really, really well. So much so that Audible and Harper Collins came knocking, as did an agent.

However, after three and a half non-fiction books I was keen to get back to the still unfinished novel. Naively I thought my non-fiction readers would pick up my novel out of curiosity, but I soon realised I was effectively starting again from scratch. My then agent was only interested in my non-fiction, as were HC and audible. It took me a while to find a new agent, and land a new book deal.

 

In your latest novel The Truth About This Charming Man Will comes across as a sound character with a good dollop of common sense, despite his unluckiness in love. How much is he like you? 

I like Will a lot, and yes, I suppose we do have a lot in common, although I don’t really see him as ‘unlucky in love’. He’s quite upfront about the fact that theatre is his first love – and I totally get that. If you told me I could be happily married to Kylie Minogue for the rest of my life, OR have a 50/50 chance of three book deal with penguin… I’d take the latter every time. Is that mad? I think it might be.

 

Will plays a number of different ‘parts’ in the book, to great comedic effect at times. To what extent do you think this mirrors the parts we all play in our own lives? (i.e. husband/wife, child/parent, boss/employee)

Blimey. That’s a deep question. Let me side step it.

Initially, The Truth About This Charming Man was never intended to be a novel. It was a five part short-story about an actor, who acts in the ‘real world’ (rather than ‘on stage’), and what happens when he’s asked to play two characters at the same meeting. But the more I wrote, the more intrigued I became by the duality of the other characters, and how – as you say – people often play different roles in their own lives. Roles that might, sometimes, require a little bending of the truth.

When my (new) agent suggested I turn the short story into a novel, I looked to that duality for my inspiration. The book then wrote itself.

 

Could you tell us your favorite book from 2015?

I read a lot of non-fiction in 2015. My favourite was Excuse Me Your Life Is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Stop aspiring and get writing.

 

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m juggling a couple of projects at the moment. There’s some exciting talk about a Truth About This Charming Man film or TV series (can’t say more than that at this stage), but regardless of whether that happens or not, a third novel should be out in the not too distant future.

 

Where can we find you?

http://facebook.com/peterjonesauthor

http://twitter.com/peterjonesauth

http://peterjonesauthor.com

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

I have just got to tell you about this book I just finished. It’s another great choice from the book group that I joined last summer (thank you ladies!).

The book is set in the not-too-distant future. We learn that NASA has been making trips to Mars for some time. Sometimes these are unmanned trips to drop off supplies and sometimes manned voyages to conduct research. A tragic accident during one such journey results in astronaut Mark Watney being left behind after his crewmates presume him dead.

A large proportion of the book is written in Mark’s own words in the form of a logbook. We learn early on that he is an incredible individual with an astonishing sense of humour which never fails him, even in the most challenging of situations. It goes without saying that he is extremely clever and resourceful; his scientific, and especially botanical, knowledge saves his life on more than one occasion.

The reader gains a wonderful insight into the characters back on Earth, too. We meet the guys at NASA, desperately gathering the cleverest minds they have to put together a rescue plan and get him back home. I could really picture the billions of people glued to their TV screens watching him via satellite as he goes about his day on the Red Planet. We learn a little of his cremates too, as they learn he is still alive and mount a rescue operation to go back to Mars and collect him.

The author captures the reader’s imagination very quickly, and holds it throughout. I couldn’t put this book down. I’m not a scientific person, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the technical content, but from what I know of the author, I don’t get the impression he would have messed up.

This is a story of overcoming adversity, of soldiering on against all the odds, and ultimately, a tale of triumphant victory. I am not at all surprised this was made into a film. It lends itself very much to the Hollywood disaster movie genre very well.

512e-pP0zGL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_For those of you who have seen the film, I understand it’s also very good. It’s on my To Watch list. This is almost, but not quite, as long as my To Read list, which means it’s unlikely I’ll get round to it any time soon.

Awesome book though. It had me in tears on more than one occasion. A solid 9.5 out of 10 from me.

Why not a nice round 10? I hear you ask. Well, there’s a very good reason for that. I have a thing for geeks. Mr Watney is my favourite geek out there right now, and I have a teeny crush on him and I feel this emotional attachment may be clouding my judgement. So there!

To Kill A Mockingbird – Is it still relevant today?

I was absolutely thrilled when someone suggested we read this for my local bookclub last month.

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Having just read the sequel a few months ago, I was very much looking forward to getting into this one again. I say ‘again’ – we actually read this at school, and I remembered that I had really enjoyed it.

I have re-read a number of books from childhood recently. Regular readers may remember my post about the Lord of the Flies and how being an adult can change our perspective on a story. I did wonder if a second reading of Harper Lee’s classic tale would have a similar effect.

There were lots of things about the story which I had completely forgotten. The touching sub-plot of Boo Radley and his affection for Jem and Scout springs to mind.

I remember as a child there was a house in our street which looked a bit neglected compared to the others. It desperately needed a lick of paint and a tidy up of the garden, and that probably would have done it. But to us children it was the topic of much gossip, as was the older guy who lived there, apparently alone. We used to make up stories about how he had murdered all the other children in the neighbourhood, and we used to wonder which of us would be next. (Jeez, I just got a shiver up my spine thinking about that!)

I had also forgotten the court verdict after the infamous trial, although looking at the story as a whole, it almost doesn’t matter.

So, I arrived at bookclub last month full of lots of things to say. Inevitably, most of us thought exactly the same thing: this story is most definitely as relevant today as it ever has been.

*** SPOILER ALERT *** For those of you who have NOT read the sequel, please do not read beyond this point!

I came across this great article from the Huffington Post which discusses what we really think of Atticus Finch (a literary hero so great that his first name is a popular baby name for white males in the US). Especially when we learn that he does not quite deserve the pedestal upon which we have perched him for such a long time.

Consider too the recent uprisings in the US, including KKK rallies and the figures relating to civilian killings of members of the African American population by white police officers. This is very sobering reading and tells us that racism is, in fact, alive and well in certain areas of the United States. Shame on them.

Siren Spirit Goes Live on Amazon!

It’s so exciting to have my very first novella released and available to buy on Amazon!

I’m thrilled at the way the cover turned out (doffs cap to Andrew Brown at Design4Writers for an amazing job).

Cover design by Design4Writers
Cover design by Design4Writers

I can’t tell you what a fantastic journey it has been to get this far, to have my very own book in my hands.

Yes, I can actually say that because, even though the paperback copy is not yet available to purchase on Amazon, I am holding the proof copy in my hands as we speak. EEK!

Stay tuned to social media for more news on the launch: Facebook and Twitter are your best ways of contacting me.

Review: From Cornwall to the Andes, Barbara Webb

I don’t read a great deal of non-fiction but I was drawn to this book, partly due to the striking painting on the cover (which I later found out is the author’s own work), and partly because of its acutely personal nature.

“How brave!” I thought. “What great courage this lady must have to share such a private and emotional journey in such a public way.”

I find I am drawn to people who display characteristics such as courage and strength. Webb seemed to be just such a person and so I decided to purchase this little book.

The first thing that is clear is that the author is no shrinking violet. This is a lady who has travelled all over the world, visiting countries and cultures of which most of us can only dream.

Yet not even such experiences can shield us from the very human condition of profound grief when a loved one dies.

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been, after such a traumatic period in one’s life, to make the decision to commit to paper the journey from her late husband’s diagnosis through his death and into the unknown territory of widowhood.

But the beauty of this story is that there is no wallowing in self-pity amongst the pages. The illness and subsequent deterioration in her husband’s condition is handled with care and tenderness, which many in a similar position will find of great comfort.

Instead, we find a moving tribute to her late husband and a candid reflection of her own despair after his death. How lucky we are that the author found herself and created such a wonderful new life to share with us.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It moved me to tears on occasion, but between the pages lie also joy and hope, and this makes it an inspiration for those with a loved one also suffering from terminal illness.

You can find out more about Barbara Webb and her books below:

Website: http://www.cornwall2theandes.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cornwall2andes

 

Review: Labyrinth, Kate Mosse

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year so far, and I don’t say that lightly.

I love reading books where the action takes place along two different time lines, but so few authors can really get this right. I believe Kate Mosse has done a superb job with Labyrinth.

In 13th century France, the spirited and adventurous Alais, daughter to a leading political figure in Carcassonne, becomes aware of a greater truth that her father entrusts to her, that of the safekeeping of ancient Egyptian texts belonging to the Cathars. Her people are being persecuted, however, and she must keep the books safe from the hands of the Northern French Crusaders who are currently marching south, pillaging land and possessions as they go.

In the present day, Alice joins an archaeological dig in the Languedoc region and inadvertently disturbs a curious burial site, bringing Alais’ story to light. Everywhere she goes there are echoes of the past, threatening her sanity and ultimately, her life.

Mosse never allows the two plots to coincide. Instead, they run seamlessly alongside one another, merging only at the very end when the reader gains a beautiful understanding as if, we too have been entrusted with this sacred knowledge of a Universal Truth.

This is a great book for celebrating the role of women in fiction. Both leading characters are women, and neither is constrained by traditional, stereotypical female roles. There is a useful glossary at the back for interpreting the Occitan language (something akin to Old French, but with distinct differences), although this is hardly necessary, and her Author’s Note explains all historical references and separates the fact from fiction.

I was never a fan of history at school. Indeed, it is through reading wonderful books such as these, that the fire in my own belly ignites and I want to write my own stories about the past. I shall certainly be reading many more from Mosse, including her recent offering, The Taxidermist’s Daughter.

The Drowning Pool, Syd Moore

The Swanwick Writers’ Summer School of 2013 was a pivotal time in my writing journey. It was the first time I had visited the school, and it was a life-changing experience, both in terms of writing and in terms of the people I met there.

For part of that glorious week, I chased poor Syd Moore around the conference centre with a copy of this book. Eventually, I found an opportune moment for her to sign it for me, and I was thrilled. It was the first book I had ever owned which was signed by the author.

I have always had a fascination with witchcraft, ever since reading Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at school. There’s something about the fact that there is yet so much we don’t understand about the physical nature of the world in which we live. This makes our imagination fill in the gaps of knowledge with stories of fantasy and imagination.

The Drowning Pool gives us a rich story into this abyss of knowledge with a wonderful story about a young widow and her connection with a historical figure, both with the name of Sarah Grey. Sarah’s raw emotions shine through in every page, and her paranormal experience allows her to come to terms with her own loss. I loved the dream sequences and the historical flashbacks which are equally beautifully described and full of imagery.

I’m not usually a fan of ghost stories, but I was drawn to the witchcraft elements of this book and in actual fact, I wasn’t at all spooked out. Instead, the appearances of the ghost are well-handled and much more sentimental than I expected. Certainly, I shall be reading more of Syd’s work, and I do hope she makes it back to Swanwick soon!

Magical Writing Retreat: Kerivoa

I can’t believe it’s only three weeks since I returned from The Write Retreat. It feels like such a long time ago now.

It was the first time I’d ever driven abroad, having previously always been on city break holidays where you walk around everywhere, or beach holidays which involve far too much alcohol to even consider driving. So, a new adventure awaited me as soon as I trundled off the ferry at Roscoff.

The journey to Katherine’s was very straightforward. I knew in advance that the French tend not to label their signs with road numbers as we do, so instead I chose to navigate by towns. The journey from Roscoff therefore, involved following signs first to Morlaix, then Guingamp, then Bourbriac, where Katherine met me and we drove up to the farmhouse.

Sipping bubbles on arrival. Katherine is such a wonderful hostess!
Sipping bubbles on arrival. Katherine is such a wonderful hostess!

The site of the farmhouse is an old Bronze Age settlement (the old bread oven still stands a little way off the main track) and I got a sense of something very special about the place as soon as I arrived. The tranquility is almost palpable.

As regular followers of this blog will be only too aware, I adore animals, so I was overjoyed when Katherine’s Westie, Kerrig, put in an appearance, closely followed by Merlin, the gorgeous black Labrador and finally, the wonderful cat, Fifi, who took a particular shine to me for the entire week. I fancy he sensed I was missing Lily so made it his mission to fulfil surrogate pet duty!

Easter Saturday meant a trip to Guingamp to sample a little shopping and practice my very rusty French. Luckily, I got by rather well and purchased gifts for family and friends before setting off back to the farmhouse for Katherine’s delicious cooking and my writing. (Well, that was the reason I was there, after all!)

Guingamp Market square, Easter Saturday. The obligatory visit to the chocolaterie!
Guingamp Market square, Easter Saturday. The obligatory visit to the chocolaterie!

Sadly, that was the last we saw of sunshine for a good few days. However, I was there to write so it didn’t matter a jot. And, write I did. Lots. Over the course of the week, I wrote no less than seven chapters of my new book.

When I arrived at Kerivoa, I had three chapters completed for what I thought was going to be a short erotic novella. This has now morphed into a larger work, incorporating more characters and venturing off into a paranormal romance direction with just a couple of erotic scenes. Funny how that happens!

Beautiful Fifi - just the most perfect muse one could possibly wish for!
Beautiful Fifi – just the most perfect muse one could possibly wish for!

I achieved so much during that week, that I am now afflicted with trying to recreate that atmosphere here at home, which is easier said than done. I have the cat, yes, but I also have a full-time job, laundry, cleaning, tidying and other procrastinating, which is driving me mad.

On top of those things, I also have some wonderful friends who are writing and publishing new books which I want to read, so I do feel as though I’m spinning lots of plates right now. Having said that, it’s a fantastic feeling to have, as I know I shall never suffer from boredom ever again!

Writing outdoors, with Fifi and Merlin.
Writing outdoors, with Fifi and Merlin.

The best single thing about my week was Katherine’s support and encouragement to follow the story and her gift for creating a truly magical and inspiring setting, even when the heavens opened and I was mooching around in my PJs and slippers!

So, back to the retreat I shall have to go. Probably not this year, what with Swanwick looming and not being able to take any more time off work than I already have planned. I believe I shall make it a priority for 2015 though.

Watch this space!

 

 

Writer With Pets: Madalyn Morgan

I met actress, writer and radio presenter Madalyn Morgan at my first Swanwick in 2013. She was one of many people I met there who inspired me early on in my own writing journey and I’m thrilled that she has contributed to my blog.

Maddie has reminded me that it’s not just the cats and dogs which share our homes which we can consider pets. Those of us lucky enough to have gardens know that the great outdoors plays host to any number of wild creatures and they too can be an inspiration.

Which came first, a love of writing, or a love of animals?

Animals came before writing, but not before acting.  Let me explain.  My first cat adopted me just before I went to Drama College in London.  I had a hairdressing salon in Rugby and the girls who worked for me insisted I took in a scruffy little stray.  I said no, but by the time the girls had fed him for a couple of weeks, they had fallen in love with him and he had taken over my flat.  Toby Two-Shoes ended up living with my parents at the pub I grew up in, when I went off to London in 1974.

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Susie Kit-Kat adopted Maddie when she was an actress living in London

My second cat, Susie Kit-Kat, was fifteen when she came to live with me.  I was an out-of-work actress and she had been orphaned when her mum of ninety-three died.  The lady was famous in South London after a court appearance for not paying her TV license.  She told the magistrates that she had enough money to pay the TV license, or feed her cats, but not both.  She chose to feed her cats.  Susie travelled with me to several repertory theatres.  She wasn’t much help when I was leaning lines though, she used to fall asleep.

Describe your pets.

My first cat, Toby, was jet black with white front paws – hence the name Toby Two-shoes.  Susie was a tabby, very soft and very pretty with big eyes.  Her lips were strange.  Most of the time she looked as if she was smiling.  A regular feline visitor to my garden is, Blanca.  She disturbs my writing so much…  She stalks the fish in my pond, so I run out and shoo her off.  She is pure white with piercing blue eyes – and she is very cheeky.  She knows I would never hurt her, so she sits and stares me out.  Only when she decides to leave, does she slink off.

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Blanca, hiding in Maddie’s wildflower garden under the apple trees

Take me through your writing day.

My day starts early.  I wake as soon as it is light, which is not so bad in the winter but in the summer, it can be too early.  However, it is as I’m waking up that I have my best ideas.  I have to write them down immediately.  Like dreams, they are very real at the time, but they quickly go out of your mind once you’re awake.

Sometimes I’m bombarded with ideas for my next book before I’ve finished writing the current one.  I was line editing my second novel, Applause, for twelve hours a day.  Stupid I know, sitting at the computer for that long is bad for your legs.  However, two nights running I was kept awake by the plot of China Blue, the third book in the Dudley sisters saga,  which I haven’t started writing yet.

“Editing Foxden Acres, I had Applause wake me up. Editing Applause, I had China Blue wake me up.”

 

In the spring and summer, I make a cup of tea and switch on the computer.  While it warms up, I take my tea and walk round the garden.  I fill the birdbaths from the water butt, put down seeds for the birds and look at the fish.  One my garden creatures are happy I go back to the computer and, with a second cup of tea, check my emails, Facebook and Tweets, before opening my writing file.  Once I start writing it’s a cup of tea and a chat to the fish and frogs every couple of hours.

 

How do your pets help or hinder the writing process, and/or inspire you?

That is a good question.  They hinder and inspire in equal measure.  I was prone to being stressed, but my pets calm me.  Fish and frogs are fascinating to watch, which is relaxing.  On the other hand, if the weather is good, I am in and out of the garden all day, which is a hindrance.  In the summer, I eat my lunch outside so I can watch them.  By then the frogs are used to my voice and will sit and watch me as I am watching them.

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Frog sunbathing on a lily pad

The fish too are used to my shape and come for food.  But my favourite time is the end of my writing day.  Around six o’clock I sit and relax by the pond with a dish of olives and a glass of wine.  Perfect.

 

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Shubunkin, goldfish, yellow and black tench

Summer is the best time for man and fish, except when you lose one.  I was heartbroken when I returned from Swanwick in August 2012 and found a beautiful red, silver and black, Shubunkin and two red goldfish were missing.  My neighbours saw a bird of prey in my garden and I guess it took them.  However, the good news is, last year I saw two tiny baby ‘black’ goldfish.  I can’t wait to see how much they have grown, if they survived the winter, which I’m sure they did.

In the winter, my workstation faces the garden and I spend far too much time gazing out the window at the birds.  I hang suet balls, seed, and nut feeders in the trees for the tits and sparrows, throw seeds on the steps for the ground eaters like Robins and other small birds, and put currents and apples out for the blackbirds.  Two beautiful little doves visit every day and what they don’t eat the pigeons see off.  I love my garden, my birds and my fish and frogs.  I never tire of watching them – and I never tire of writing.

Popping in and out several times, a day is good for a writer.  I spent far too many hours at the computer without taking a break, while I edited Foxden Acres and then Applause, and had extremely painful legs as a consequence.  Writers need to get up every hour or so and move about.

Elizabeth Gilbert: A Signature of All Things

Some months ago, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Bloomsbury Publishing, London, for the London leg of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book tour to promote her wonderful new novel, A Signature of All Things.

Ar 201uthor Elizabeth Gilbert (l) and me at Bloomsbury Publishing in October 2013
Author Liz Gilbert (left) and me at Bloomsbury Publishing in October 2013

Over the Christmas break I finished reading the book and, I have to say, what a wonderful read it is.

Liz has created such a great character in Alma Whittaker. She is an incredibly intelligent woman who excels in her chosen field of botany. She is not, however, an attractive heroine who meets the love of her life and lives happily ever after. Instead, her story is one of immense personal strength, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and, ultimately, heartbreak.

I am a huge fan of Liz’s work and it was a pleasure to meet her at the event. A friend pointed me in the direction of Eat, Pray Love a couple of years ago and I have never looked back. She writes with a rare eloquence which reads as though she herself is speaking from the page. It makes her stories sound deeply personal and all the more believable. I have since gone on to purchase more of her books and shall read them with great pleasure!

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

So, here we are. I’ve arrived in West Cumbria, chez Mama and Papa, amid severe gales and showers of both sleet and hail. To make matters worse,  the distraught feline on the back seat made her displeasure all too obvious by howling for most of the journey.

So tempers were frayed to start with, before I learned that my father’s broadband connection has been reset and so the network and password data on the back of his router is useless. Cue a phone call to TALKTALK to get it all sorted.

Now, I am not the most patient person in the world as it is. So, I consider today to have been a triumph, since I have not lost my temper with anyone yet. However, it’s only just gone dark. There’s plenty of time before bed!

So, as I settle into a Christmas with my family, as I’m sure many of you will be doing, it’s time to reflect on a year of success for my fledgling writing career. And also to look forward to how it will likely leap forward in 2014.

By far, one of the most wonderful experiences was my first week at Swanwick which I shall treasure forever. Meeting so many talented writers and being immersed in a literary world was such an inspiration. Certainly, it gave me confidence and courage to write more than before and with a more determined purpose.

Visiting authors at book tours has also become an inspirational pastime which I look forward to doing much more of in 2014. Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Mark Forsyth have given me food for thought about my next steps into the world of authoring.

I have been writing my short stories which, as many of you know, will be published under my pseudonym sometime in January. One of my tasks over the holidays is to browse through thousands of book covers to choose just the right ones for my stories.

All very exciting stuff for someone who, less than twelve months ago, didn’t know whether this was just a passing phase that I would get bored of eventually. Although I do still get moments of self-doubt, as I believe most writers do from time to time, I believe I’ve made great progress this year.

So, if you’re a dedicated follower of this blog, first of all I’d like to say a huge “Thank you!” and also give you a taster of what’s to come in the next few months.

Short stories published for the kindle and available through Amazon only to start with. Watch this space or check my Facebook page () for details.

I’m off to Brittany in France for a writing retreat at Easter, another in Rome in June and then Swanwick again in August to top up on inspiration and meet up with my writing friends.

I also plan to be developing a website for my alter ego to help promote my kindle stories so look out for more on that. So, with that and continuing this blog, I shall be a very busy lady.

Finally, I have this novel which has been swimming around in my head for a while and really needs to get onto the page. So, there’ll be more work on that from to time.

So, all that remains is for me to wish you and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year 2014!