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That certain smell of fire and explosives…

dba6a111097d5697a81f7ac67afb845fIt’s the 4th of July – which means fireworks and barbecues – but here in the UK, it’s just another day.  Well, would you want to celebrate losing a continent?  Here, we reserve setting things on fire for Guy Fawkes, which celebrates the day an Italian tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

Today on the Prime Writers site, I’m here with some ex-pat writers, trying to remember what the 4th of July was like, which led to a big tumble down memory lane and a giant box of Red Devil firecrackers.  Light ’em up, Smoky Joe…

I love We Love This Book

IScreen Shot 2015-06-19 at 16.10.09f you love books, you’ll want to sign up to We Love This Book, a one-stop shop for great new reads – as well as some – ahem – older ones.  Up this month in a feature of “women on the run” is Amity & Sorrow, as recommended by Isabel Ashdown, whose third novel, Flight, is out now.  Back when my book was only a wish, We Love This Book was a paper magazine.  Now, it may be website and e-newsletter, but it’s still as great a read as ever.  Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 16.10.34

Who are you like?

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 09.10.00One of the hardest questions I faced when hoping to sell Amity & Sorrow was comparing my work and my writing to someone else’s.  Potential agents and publishers want to know:  who are you like?  But how can you know?  And, if you know, how can you possibly dare to utter the name of an idol?  Now that I’m out the other side of that, I can see the benefits.  Placing books alongside others helps readers to find new writers.  It isn’t about who we really think we write like, because the goal, of course, is to find our own voices and our own ways.  Today, on We Love This Book, I’m very happy to share a screen with Rebecca Wait, whose new second novel, The Followers, sits alongside Life After Life and Amity & Sorrow very nicely.  Do we three write the same?  Probably not.  But if it helps readers to take a chance on The Followers, which I found completely gripping, then it is all to the good!  And, you know, if any of Kate’s readers want to take on my little debut novel…

So, who are you like?  Can you dare to say it?

Alice & Me

It’s nice to share a cover with Alice Munro – but I’m sorry she didn’t get any fire with hers!








paper-boatThis weekend, another writer pointed out to me that I hadn’t written a blog post in a long time.  A LONG time.  And my only excuse is that I’m editing.  And what can you say about editing that’s interesting?  People want news of ends and beginnings, “done’s” and “begun’s” and not so much about the middle.  Middles are process and not so newsworthy.  And sometimes the middles take a long, long time.

But, come to think of it, what is editing, anyway?  We bandy the term about, but what do we mean?  Sometimes we say we’re editing, because it’s a last draft and we’re looking at every word with a big red pen.  This is painful, picky editing, the last of the last of the drafts.  Sometimes we’re really rewriting, but saying editing sounds more “done”.  Edits can be structural, looking at the whole of the thing, or line-by-line, or sometimes it’s something in the middle, working through the elements of the novel one by one: character by character, plot, story arcs, details, time.  It can be very hard to edit everything all at once, but everything has to get edited, eventually.

Edits happen by standing back as well as by zooming in.  Edits happen, sometimes, with editors who help you see your book with fresh eyes.  Too many drafts and you can’t see the story for the words.  Editor-less, there are lots of books on self-editing.  I have quite a number on my shelves that I flip through, now and again, sure that I’m forgetting something crucial, something simple, some key that will turn the whole of the thing around in a snap.  Am I showing more than telling in the right places?  Is Chapter 1 the story’s beginning?  Are all the elements there and in the right place, in the right order?  Have I got to grips with this story I want to tell?

I’ve lost count of drafts I’ve done now, but it is a healthy stack.  I’m a messy writer, slapping rough drafts together, draft after draft.  I trained as a playwright and I still look at writing as if I’m building a chair or a boat.  At first, I only want it to hold together, to keep the water out.  I don’t worry about sanding or polishing it for a long time.  That’s just my process.  So, when I say editing I mean I’m very near the end.  Now, I’m looking at the whole of the thing, the boat that’s ready to leave the port.  And I’m also picking away at it with sandpaper, smoothing away bits I don’t need anymore or sanding away at transitions, easing it toward being a better read.  I’m now at the point when I’m checking the winds and the weather at sea.  Soon, I’ll set sail.  Soon. But until then, I’m editing.  If you’d like to talk more about editing, why not join me at the WhitLit Writers Day?



WhitWord Oct-Dec 2014 01_crp.img_assist_custom-320x213Did you know I have an author page on Facebook?  I’m more a Twitter girl, but for some things, only Facebook will do.  Here’s today’s link to my upcoming event with WhitWord, a brand new group for writers of Whitstable – and beyond!  We’ll be talking about writing, sure, but mostly about what makes a real difference.  Where to submit, who to talk to, how to get the help and support you need when you need it most.  No book is an island and no writer needs to feel alone.  Why not make a late new year writing resolution and join a writing group?

This new year…

IMG_4656This new year finds me getting over a head cold and gearing up to work on last year’s books.  (That’s so last year!)  It would be nice to have everything brand new with a brand new year, but lives aren’t like towels.  You can’t just buy new ones in the sale.  Some books take a long time to get right, as this stack of old drafts attests.  Last year was spent rewriting my second book – and some of this year will be spent the same.  That’s my lot.  But last year, I also finished the first draft of a new book – so many I’ll get two right this year.  Anything is possible.  Really.
I’m no resolution maker.  I like my life the way it is and I don’t need a new calendar or fancy app to tell me to get my patoot out of the chair and lace the trainers on.  Today, in particular, I need to tell myself to knuckle down, but I figure it’s part of the transitioning out of illness and crazy-making holidays and back to whatever normal is.  That’s my excuse, anyway.  It’s all I’ve got on a rainy January with my tepid cup of tea and to-do list.
There is something about January that makes us want to start new things – even when we know the work is to finish what’s already before us.  I’m going to be sitting in this chair and working on these pages until May, I reckon.  But once we get to May, I do predict a few changes.  And just like that, with a new deadline and the first marks made in a brand new calendar, the year begins to take shape.  Every day, a cup of tea and a fresh idea can change the world – well, our world, anyway:  our moods, our outlooks, our hopes, our dreams.  And with that, I’d better switch that kettle on.

Happy Holidays to you…

photoChestnuts roasting on my open Calor gas heater, fairy lights strung across a stack of old drafts.  Time to boil the kettle again and to wish you a Merry Christmas from the Blue House!

See you in the shiny New Year,


Great Reads

safe_image.php2014 was a great year for readers.  In today’s Huffington Post, author Hannah Beckerman asked 20 fellow writers – including me – for their favourite books of the year.  It’s quite a list – and my to-read list just skyrocketed! How about yours?

Authors Pick the Best Books of 2014:  Huffington Post


I’m a NaNo Winner!

Winner-2014-Web-BannerI hit my NaNoWriMo target last night – 50,000 words in 26 days.  Yowza! And the nice folks on the NaNoWriMo site even sent me this nifty badge as proof.  No, it isn’t a novel, as 50,000 words is about 30,000 too short.  No, it isn’t a first draft – the whole thing is pretty unreadable, doesn’t really hang together, and needs to be rewritten.  But what it is will help me to write the first draft – it’s 50,000 new words in a floor plan, with my first attempts to create scenes, explore the terrain, get the characters all talking.  This draft helps me see the shape of the thing that will be the first draft – and maybe the second draft is the one that will be readable.  A big thank you to NaNoWriMo for making November such fun – and a shout-out to the writers of Kent.  We’re having a write-in tomorrow and even though I’ve finished my 50K, it doesn’t mean I’m done writing.  Maybe I can hit 55K before the month is done!


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