I Had a Brain Once: 2013 365 Challenge #211

The notebook page for my Life Writing

The notebook page for my Life Writing

I was recently invited to read a collection of short stories by author Pat Elliott. Another blogger that I follow, Sally Jenkins, also has a collection of short stories that I read and reviewed earlier in the year.

I’ve never been a short-story writer. Followers of this blog will know that I tend to the verbose, and so keeping a story to 1000 or 2000 words is almost impossible. Only once did a story come fully-formed in my mind in short format. I wrote it to see if I could break into the impenetrable womags market and, when it failed to do so, I abandoned the idea (much as I did with my attempts to write Mills & Boon).*

However, reading these collections of short stories made me wonder if I had any stories from my time studying Creative Writing at the Open University that could be worked on, partly for editing practice, and partly as a project to slot in between publishing Baby Blues and Class Act. (Have I mentioned before my short attention span? Or how addictive publishing books can be?)

Sally Jenkins Short Story Collection

Sally Jenkins Short Story Collection

So I had a gander through my assignments and did find one or two stories that I was proud of. There’s a piece of life writing, too, although I recall that I gave it to my students, when I taught Creative Writing for a couple of terms, and they tore it to shreds, so I’m guessing that needs some work (I wish I’d thought to take notes on their critique!).

There’s also an issue with the life writing in that it talks about people I know, and not always in a positive way. I have to decide whether to cut those bits out, hope those people never read my stuff, or rewrite it as fiction.

I found a collection of five poems I wrote as my final assignment in my work folder – again life writing, but this time addressed to my father after his death. Does poetry sell? Could I include them in a collection of short stories? Should I scrap the whole idea as too commercial, and stick to novels, or is it good to show your versatility as a writer? Who knows.

The other thing I discovered, going through my old study notes, is how much I actually knew (or sounded like I knew) about writing. The notes that went with the poems for my final assignment said things like this:

I believe poetry should ‘happen between tongue and teeth’ [Dunn, CD2], and I write to that end.  I like to include alliteration and enjambment to move the poem forward.  When I read these poems out loud, some of the enjambment seemed to jar the rhythm.  However I decided I liked the effect, as it mimicked the suddenness of death and how it jolts the familiar. For example ‘Like hands they wave goodbye.’ and ‘Already they are dying’ (May, lines 8 and 16).

Pat Elliott's New Collection

Pat Elliott’s New Collection

And this –

Feedback highlighted some trochees that disturbed the rhythm, so I reworked those lines. It was also suggested that I change the many 11-beat lines, but I like feminine endings [Herbert, ‘Form’, 2006, p.240] and so left these in place.


Oh my, I used to know stuff. I had a brain, once, before it turned to fromage frais through lack of sleep. I enjoyed writing poetry, too, yet I never write it now. I doubt I would have the vocabulary for it, as the first thing that disappears when I haven’t slept is my command of the English Language. Still, it was a fun trip through memory lane, and add another line to my very long list of projects to do ‘one day’.

*Please don’t take from this that I’m a quitter: I know my forte is full-length novels, but there are bills to pay, so I have tried to find enthusiasm for the more commercial routes. I failed.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 


Sky skipped alongside Claire as they walked from the car to the theatre. Dark clouds gathered in Claire’s mind, the closer they got, despite the clear twilight sky. Claire looked up at the deep blue overhead. Thank God for small mercies. Even though the seats were covered, she knew the stage was in the open, and it wasn’t likely to improve Kim’s mood if she got drenched during the performance.

Eyes darting left and right, Claire followed the throng of people, trying not to be irritated by jostling picnic baskets and raucous laughter. The intention had been to bring a picnic and come early with Sky, but Jenny hadn’t returned her until six o’clock, by which time it was too late.

As it was, they’d only managed to find a parking space by grace of the Skoda’s narrow width, squeezing in between a Range Rover and a Lexus. The car looked ill at ease, as if intimidated by its neighbours. Claire had given it a pat, and vowed to be either the first or last to leave.

“Auntie Claire?”

Looking down, Claire realised her niece had been talking to her. “Sorry, darling, I didn’t catch that.”

“Will we see Jeff? You said your friend Kim is in the play, so will Jeff be here? I liked him, he was funny.”

Claire’s stomach plummeted to her feet. Crap. It hadn’t occurred to her that she might bump into anyone she knew, never mind Kim’s husband. She shivered. The word husband raised unwelcome images of the last time she had seen her friend.

“I guess so, poppet. We’ll keep an eye out for him.” And duck behind the nearest tree if we see him.

They took their seats and Claire arranged a blanket across Sky’s knees. The girl sat wide-eyed in the dark, taking in all the details of the stage beneath them, where painted scenery nestled amid real trees.

The performance began and Claire forgot to be anxious, as the unfolding story pulled her in. Glancing sideways at Sky, she wondered if her niece would manage to follow all the complicated language or if she would be bored. The girl sat forward in her chair, one hand on her chin, the other cupping her elbow in support. With her long golden hair around her shoulders she wouldn’t have looked out of place flitting between the trees with the Queen of the Fairies.

As Act I ended, Claire felt the tension tighten beneath her ribcage. It was a long time since she’d seen or read the play, but she was certain Puck came on in the second act. Her breathing shallow, she turned her face back to the stage in time to see a red-haired puck swing down from a tree to accost a fairy.

“How now, spirit! Whither wander you?”

The voice cut through Claire, and she realised for the first time that she hadn’t been sure Kim would be on the stage. Her friend’s words from what felt like eons ago came back to her. If the director finds out I’m pregnant, he’ll give the role to the understudy. Glad that Michael’s outburst hadn’t cost Kim her job, Claire settled back to enjoy her performance.

Their seats were about twenty rows from the stage. Far enough away that Claire felt able to watch without fearing that Kim would see her in the audience. She sensed a movement next to her, and felt Sky turn to face her.

“Look, Auntie Claire, there’s Kim!”

The girl’s whisper penetrated the auditorium, and was greeted with chuckles and a few whispered demands for silence. Claire’s heart thumped loudly as she added her request to her niece to be quiet. Returning her attention to the stage, she realised that Kim was looking directly at her, and the expression on her face was unmistakeable. Her eyes burned with a fury that stopped Claire’s heart.


My Problem with Pinterest: 2013 365 Challenge #161

My scrapbook for Finding Lucy. All images are from istockphoto © David Meharey

My scrapbook for Finding Lucy. All images are from istockphoto     © David Meharey

Last year I wrote a post about my love affair with Pinterest. I discovered it fairly late and immediately saw the potential for writers: a way to explore characters, connect with readers and a means to replace the scrapbook for storing ideas.

I quickly filled several boards with all the images I had on characters, locations etc for my novels. Then I started reading about people being sued for breach of copyright, And I got cold feet. The boards were stripped of all but photographs I had taken, or ones with a Creative Commons licence. I had assumed (wrongly) that, because Pinterest links back to the pinned source, copyright wouldn’t be an issue.

I was gutted, as it made scrap-booking much easier. No printing, copying, storing: just a quick click and a note and there it was for everyone to see. But, as someone who has worked in compliance before, the idea of breaching copyright terrifies me. So I went back to saving bookmarks and putting images in Word files. For a while I did post blog images on Pinterest (most pictures on the daily blog are mine or CC) but I’ve forgotten my logon and now my boards are dormant and bereft.

Cover and key story line of Finding Lucy

Purchased Cover Image and key story line of Finding Lucy

Then, today, I found the scrapbook I made for my first (unfinished) novel, Finding Lucy, and it occurred to me that Pinterest would never replace a decent scrapbook.

Instead of mourning a missed opportunity I need to stop being lazy and keep up with my scrapbooks. I look at the detail of my original scrapbook and realise having the same for all my other novels would be amazing. Because it’s all there.

All the stuff that ensures continuity and depth and three-dimensional characters. Birthdays, star signs, house layouts, what characters look like – not just one look but many different looks (stock photography is great for that. All the images in my scrapbook above are the same girl as my cover image).

When I get the time to go back and finish Finding Lucy, (the first draft was caught short by the early arrival of my second child), I won’t have to trawl through Word files to remember who everybody is. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not 100% certain even how old some of my protagonists are for my later novels. For Finding Lucy their birthdays pop up in my phone like real people (It’s Andrew Finch’s birthday today – one of the leading men from Finding Lucy!). I do have notes and character maps for all my books, but they’re buried in Word files. You can’t beat flicking through pages, scribbling notes in the margin. Time to turn my back on digital and do it the old-fashioned way. Pass me the glue..


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire’s wrist throbbed by the time the Sat Nav announced her arrival. I had to sprain my left hand, didn’t I? It doesn’t really matter, these days, hurting the hand you write with. Who writes with a pen anyway? I can type as quick with both hands. Changing gear, though, that I can only do left-handed.

She curled her good hand around the swollen wrist and wondered if the hostel manager would be able to procure her some ice. What did the Doctor say? Something about rest, ice and elevation. Well, I’ve buggered the Rest part, let’s see what we can do about the other things.

Raising her wrist across her chest, Claire kicked the car door shut and headed into the building. As she took in the wide, white walls, the geometric lines and tall sash windows, Claire felt some of the pain ebb away. I might indulge myself and stay a day or two. What is it about these old buildings that exudes calm? Maybe I was born in the wrong century. I hope it’s as nice on the inside.

She walked through the door, and her soul lifted higher. It’s a refurb. God bless the YHA for investing in their properties. All through the building to her room it felt like a new hotel, not a Georgian mansion or a youth hostel. Everywhere she looked there were new fixtures and bright colours.

A bit too bright, she thought, as she headed for the bunk-beds, with their lime-green duvet covers and pillows. She gave the frame a rattle, as she claimed the last available bed. I’m glad I’m on top. It’ll be like sleeping on a boat, but I pity the poor person beneath me. This is going to shake like a bouncy-castle if I have a restless night.

With a look round the empty room, Claire decided it was time to ignore doctor’s orders and visit the bar. A whole weekend of wedding planning and baby talk had left her in dire need of a drink. At least it’ll help me sleep soundly. That should please the girl underneath.


“What’ll it be?”

“Gin and tonic, please.”

Claire looked round the lounge, surprised to see it so full. “Busy, for a Sunday night?”

“It’s quiz night. Most of these are locals.”

Claire scanned the tables again and realised most people were huddled in groups, whispering together. A young Asian man caught her eye, and grinned. “Come and join our team, we could use some fresh blood. Then we might come better than last!”

There was a ripple of laughter from the surrounding tables, and Claire felt herself smile in response. She turned as the barman placed her drink on the counter and told her how much. As she retrieved some money from her purse, she tried to think of a polite way to decline the man’s invitation, should he renew it. For some reason her brain seemed unwilling to come up with an excuse.

Sure enough, as she turned, G&T in hand, the man gave a small wave and patted the seat next to him. Not for the first time, Claire’s feet moved of their own volition, and she found herself hovering in front of the man’s table. He was sat with two other men and a young girl who looked like she might faint if asked to speak.

“Hi, name’s Mizan.” The man who had invited her over half-rose from his seat and held out his hand.

Claire shook it quickly, unsure what to make of the greeting. Is he trying to chat me up, or just being friendly. Deciding it didn’t really matter either way, Claire perched on the spare seat.

She smiled round at the group and was relieved when the others nodded in greeting. Clearly inviting random women to join them wasn’t an unusual occurrence.

“What’s your topic then and, more importantly, what’s your name?” The man next to Mizan spoke, in the soft burr of the Scotsman.

With a flush, Claire ignored the heat generated by the sexy voice, and replied a little too loudly, “Claire, my name’s Claire. I don’t have a specialist subject, I’ve never been to a quiz night before.”

There was a babble of words as all three men exclaimed at her confession. She wondered if she would be ejected from the team, but her value now seemed to be as a curiosity, rather than a participant. Really, is it so amazing that I’ve never joined in a pub quiz? They don’t have them in wine bars and pubs aren’t really my thing.

She sat back, as the quiz master arrived at the front of the room, and supped her drink. The alcohol fizzed its merry way to her brain and spread warmly through her body, carrying with it a wave of contentment.

I won’t be able to contribute, but it beats talking about babies.


A Time for Decisions: 2013 365 Challenge #150

Two-Hundred Steps Home

Two-Hundred Steps Home

It doesn’t seem possible that this is post 150 of the 365 challenge. How quickly the numbers stack up. If only Claire was racking up hostels as quickly as I have been writing posts. She is currently staying in her 31st hostel, with well over a hundred to go, discounting the bunkhouses and hostels that aren’t open to individuals.

I also sense that Claire’s personal journey might not require her to visit all the hostels, which would result in TwoHundred Steps Home becoming too much of a travel journal. At over 114,000 words already (now just longer than Dragon Wraiths), the novel isn’t what you’d call pacey! I have two directions in mind for where the series will go, and I probably need to make a decision soon about which road to take.

Both lead to a second, normal-length novel that I would write and publish as I have done Dragon Wraiths (just what I need, another manuscript to join the other unfinished works). In an ideal world I would write that now, alongside the daily one, so people could rush out and buy it on 1st Jan 2014, when there is no more Claire here on the blog.

Ha ha ha ha. Excuse me while I wipe tears of mirth from my eyes.

I have so many projects, the only thing that has priority is feeding the demanding, screaming, baby that is the daily blog. I don’t know what Claire’s going to do today, never mind writing a whole novel of new Claire adventures. And the sequel to Dragon Wraiths. And the new MG one. Plus, of course, editing and publishing the two complete manuscripts sitting patiently on my laptop. No wonder Claire doesn’t know what she’s doing today – her creator is swamped beneath a mound of unfinished projects.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire looked up at the building and wondered which way to go. The dome dominated the skyline in front of her as if it was a true mountain rather than a monstrosity of steel filled with fake snow. Her nerves were already rattled from searching for a parking space: not that the car park was full, but the rainbow of coloured bays confused her.

It’s too early and I haven’t had enough coffee. Was this a good idea? It’s not exactly Val d’Isère. How can it be anything like the real thing, here in Milton Keynes, as far from the mountains as it’s possible to be?

Knowing she had little choice, Claire followed the signs into the building and to her check-in location. If I don’t do something spectacular, Julia’s going to be all over me like hives.

She’d thought about cheating – pretending she had never skied and taking a skiing lesson. I’m pretty sure Carl will remember I went skiing with Michael last November. I don’t need that particular conversation. At least learning to snowboard will be fun and something useful for after I’ve finished this stupid assignment.

A gaggle of children clambered down from a coach nearby, making Claire jump. Their excited shrieking gave her the shivers. I hope they’re going bowling. That’s too much energy to share a slope with.

Memories of skiing flickered in Claire’s mind and she pushed them away. She didn’t want to picture Michael skiing up and showering her in powder before smothering her in kisses. Nor did she want to remember the twelve-year-olds who had swooped round her on the blue runs as if the skis had been on their feet since birth. Much as she had enjoyed skiing, she had to admit she wasn’t a natural.

Claire arrived at the desk and smiled at the young woman waiting to check people in. She received a glittering grin in return, and felt some of the tension seep out of her shoulders. Following the directions, Claire went to pull on her snow trousers and jacket and locate her board. Maybe this won’t be so bad.



Claire glared at the child who had crashed into her, sending her sprawling in the snow.

“Sorry, Miss, I lost my balance.”

Fairness caused Claire to grin. “No apology needed, I’m not exactly getting the hang of it myself.”

“You’re doing great, Miss.”

The boy flipped onto his feet, tilted his board, and sailed off down the slope. Claire looked round, trying to work out how to get to her feet with as much elegance. She ached and her clothes were wet. This snow is far too real for my liking. Though at least it is soft.

A whoosh behind her signalled the arrival of her coach. He held out an arm and Claire allowed herself to be pulled upright.

“Are you naturally clumsy, or just not awake?”

The words were said with humour but Claire bristled. We can’t all be born graceful.

“I’m used to skis,” she said, defensively, before regretting her words.

“Ah, yes, that figures. Nice safe option. Boring, but much easier.” He raised an eyebrow and Claire felt the ire build in her chest, warming her from the inside.

“I’m not done yet. I’ve only been here an hour.” She gritted her teeth, tilted the board, adjusted her bodyweight as instructed, and headed down the slope. For the first time since arriving she managed to remain upright.

Wow, this is amazing! Okay I begin to understand the hype. The words were barely formed in her mind before she lost her balance and landed heavily in the snow, her arm trapped awkwardly beneath her. Pain flooded through her mind like hot ice, and she screamed.


My Love-Affair with the Paperback: 2013 365 Challenge #81

A random selection of books

A random selection of books

It seems ironic that, on the day when my second free promotion of Dragon Wraiths goes live on kindle, I visit the charity shop and purchase a random selection of paperbacks. These books cost the same as the average ebook for a self-published author – around the £2 ($3) mark. Yet it’s unlikely that I would buy an ebook from an author I had never heard of, particularly not without a review.

My buying process was the same – I liked the front cover and genre, I read the first few pages and the blurb, and I made a decision. Not the Wendy Holden of course, I’ve got a shelf-full. But the other two are a complete gamble.Yet, even though I’m trying to self-publish as an unknown author, these books feel more ‘real’.

Oh dear.

If I feel like that, and I genuinely know that self-published ebooks can be just as good as something that’s been accepted by a publisher, no wonder Dragon Wraiths has only sold 10 copies. It’s not even like I haven’t read some awful books that were traditionally published. Many of my random charity shop purchases remain unread or unfinished. And yet I still persist in being a paperback person.

Much more attractive than a kindle

Much more attractive than a kindle

Perhaps it’s because I don’t own a kindle and reading books on a laptop, even a little one like mine, isn’t much fun. I did try my mother’s kindle but I couldn’t navigate it (it was the old sort with just a couple of buttons) and soon gave up.

I’m not dissing ebooks (that would be silly as I’m trying, badly, to sell one!). I would have loved a kindle when I was travelling, just as I would have loved an iPod. It would have saved me from days with no company (and from endless commercial radio!). A kindle/iPod combination when I was breastfeeding my kids at 2am would have been a lifesaver.

It’s just that I’ve had a paperback in my hand since I could read.

I often had an egg-sized bump on my head as a child from walking into lamp-posts because I had my nose in a book. I read everything from Mills & Boon to Gone With The Wind before I left Middle School. Reading was my life. Until I hit the real world. These days, more often than not, it’s my phone in my hand rather than a decent book, and blogs and twitter are my reading material.  

Funnily enough, I don’t miss CDs. We have boxes of them in the loft but I don’t feel bereft that the music is now all on the computer. Far from it. I love being able to mash my own selections together without having to copy and burn discs (or, even worse, sitting there with a tape-to-tape set up and a twitchy trigger finger).

With books it is different. They’re a visual medium. The font, the pictures, the creases, the chocolate stains, the warped pages where it got dropped in the bath. These are all part of the reading experience. Seeing which books end up at charity shops in droves. Seeing the ones that have hardly been touched and the ones that have been re-read a hundred times. It’s part of the book history (one of the best bits of my MA).

And so my love-affair with the paperback continues. I might be trying to sell an ebook but I’m not ready to sell-out to digital. Sorry.


Claire looked up the location of the hostel she’d just booked and swore. “That’s miles from Hathersage and I’ve still got to back for the bloody car. Stupid YHA and their stupid school trips.”

She’d been phoning round the hostels for twenty minutes while waiting for the train home, her new phone sitting happy in her hand. It turned out that several of the Peak District hostels were only open at weekends and during the school holidays for non-school visitors. Not that I really want to stay with a bunch of school kids anyway. Eventually she’d found a hostel near Bakewell that had beds free.

I’m not sure I like the name Youlgreave. That sounds prophetic. What’s going to happen to me there? I’ve already been half-frozen, lost, wedged in a rock and mugged since I started on this trip.

Something about the words you’ll grieve made her think of Ruth. I haven’t called since last week. I’d best make sure everything is okay and Sky is happy to come on the road with me.

She pulled out her new phone, smiling at the unscratched screen and brand new cover. Then she remembered she had no idea what Ruth’s phone number was. With a sigh she delved in her bag for her iPad. I really should memorise some numbers. What if they’d taken my iPad too? I’d be buggered. I barely know my own number.

Eventually she located her sister’s number and was able to call.

“Hello, Sky speaking.”

“Hello Sky, it’s Auntie Claire.” She was about to ask to speak to Ruth when she realised she’d have to talk to her niece at some point. “Um. How are you?”

“Auntie Claire! Mummy’s poorly and Nana is looking after me. She picked me up from school today. We did numbers and PE and I learned how to do a cartwheel and then Susie was mean to me but we made up. And Nana let me buy a cake on the way home to cheer Mummy up because she’s sad. Mummy says you’re taking me to the seaside! When are you coming, is it tomorrow?”

Claire held the phone away from her ear and tried to follow the rapid-fire monologue, wondering which bits she was meant to respond to. She figured the last question would be enough.

“Friday. I’ll be there on Friday Sky.”

“Yippee. I can’t wait. It’s going to be so much fun. Will you paint my nails and do my make-up? Pleeeaasse?”

“Er, sure. Yes. We can do that.” Claire thought about her make-up bag. It must be in my rucksack somewhere. I don’t remember leaving it behind. She made a mental note to buy some child-friendly products before she got to Cambridgeshire.

“Is your Mummy there, Sky?” She held the phone further away from her ear as her niece yelled “Mummy!” She heard the phone clunk, followed by the sound of running. I feel bad for disturbing her now. Maybe I should have called Mum instead, although it sounds like she’s probably there too. A shard of guilt stabbed in Claire’s chest at the thought of her mother looking after Ruth while she swanned around taking pictures and writing for the blog. Not to mention getting mugged and sleeping in noisy rooms with total strangers.

The phone clicked and there was a shuffling noise. “Claire?”

Ice slid into Claire’s stomach at the sound of her sister’s voice. She sounded twenty years older. It has been only a few days? I haven’t disappeared into some new time zone out here in the sticks?

“Ruth? How are you?” She tried to make her voice cheerful but she could hear the wobble.

A low chuckle came down the line. “I’ve been better. I’m glad you’re taking Sky. I’m going to miss her, but I need some quiet. She tries, but her nursing me is worse than her being normal.” The words came slowly, like each one needed to rise to the surface before it could be pushed down the phone-line.

“It’s the least I can do. Look do you want me to come before Friday? Give you and Mum a break?”

“No. It’s fine. I think Mum’s enjoying it in a strange way. It’s giving her so much to be a martyr about. Actually.” There was a pause. “Could you come on Thursday? Sky will be off-the-wall hyper when she finishes school. I’m not sure I can bear it. You can stay here the night if you don’t mind the sofa.”

Claire quickly tried to evaluate which would be worse, staying in the Cambridge hostel with a small child or kipping on her sister’s couch. It might be nice to spend a night away from the hostels. Carl doesn’t need to know.

“Sure sis, I’ll come Thursday. I can collect Sky from school.”

“Okay.” The phone went silent. Claire didn’t want to hang up. The words you’ll grieve thrummed in her mind. But it was clear her sister was exhausted.

“Great. I’ll see you then. And sis… take care.”


Renewing my love affair with dragons (and editing)

Still from Stefen Fangmeier’s 2006 film Eragon.
Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Allstar

I find myself in the unprecedented position that I am itching to start editing my work in progress, Dragon Wraiths.

Usually I only enjoy the writing part and approach revision and editing much as I would a trip to the dentist. This time, though, I am having to force myself to finish the four or five chapters in the final section before I start taking it all apart. Thankfully I decided on a structure of nine 3,000-word-ish chapters per section (although I have added a whole extra section in my usual scope-creep), otherwise I would take the easy way out and decide the first draft is done already.

For most of my novels I am aware that I have underplayed the climax because I ran out of steam, or ideas, or a new book lured me away. So I am determined to battle through my battle scenes before I let myself review the whole and start drawing out the themes.

This time I think my last-chapters-lethargy is caused by things other than exhaustion or boredom (although with an average word count of 10,000 a day on the two days a week I get to write, exhaustion of ideas is definitely a factor. Hence no blog posts for a couple of weeks – all out of words!)

Firstly I’ve already closed out the love story and written the final scene. A mistake, but an unavoidable one. The final scene presented itself while I was walking the dog (see next post) and I never look gift words in the mouth. As a result I have written the bit of the story I’m interested in and skimmed over the same parts I often skim-read, namely the battle scenes.

The other problems are more positive. I am nervous, elated and excited about this book. It feels good. I have ideas about themes, character development, setting and so on that I want to build on during revision. All the wonderful blogs I read have clearly had an influence and I am eager to put them into practice.

I have also been reading some excellent and varied middle grade and young adult books about dragons, including Eragon by Christopher Paolini (written when he was fifteen!) and The Dragon’s Eye by Dugald A. Steer. These were complemented by an interesting blog post from 2009 that I discovered when searching for an image for this post: Dragons in Literature by Imogen Russell Williams, adding yet another great blog writer to my growing list.

As well as my eagerness to get going on revision I am also conscious of my deadlines. I am writing this book to enter in two Children’s Novel competitions, with deadlines of 10th September and end October. Clearly there is not enough time to revise properly so I need to get started as soon as I can or face a difficult decision: Whether to forget the competitions and focus on finishing the novel to the best of my ability or do a rush job (including reducing word count from 110k to 80k) and hope for the best.

What are your views on dragons in literature?

Have you ever had to rush revision to hit a deadline? All advice gratefully received. 

This interview with Christopher Paolini contains some great advice for writers.

Beta Readers

Apologies for my silence, to those of you who are kind enough to follow my novel writing exploits. As well as drying out my soggy soul in sunny Italy for a few days, I have spent weeks immersed in major editing of my WIP Pictures of Love.

It seems the nearer I get to pressing save on my final draft, before sending it to my lovely beta readers, the more I feel compelled to rewrite the whole bloomin’ thing from the first page.

I understand the need for my novel to be the best it can be before going out into the world at large. But how polished does it need to be for beta readers? I mean, what if I spend hours filling in all the extra bits of back-story for a secondary character only to be told she adds nothing to the plot?

Or – my biggest fear, certainly in my academic days – what if I remove something, only to have someone suggest it’s exactly the thing that is missing for them? Do I take out the long words – as has been suggested – when I know most of my readers will understand and expect them? Most importantly, do I take out the sex?

I have one sex scene, right at the beginning, to show my main character’s relationship is based only on lust. There is no more sex after that, well none shown explicitly. What if I set the expectation that it’s an erotic novel when it’s nothing of the sort?


I knew writing novels was going to be hard but, like parenting, it’s hard in all different places to the ones I expected.

Making Butterflies

Today I made butterflies.

It seemed the only productive thing to do, and they look pretty.

Sometimes when my brain is full or aching or lost I find it soothing to sew things. I am rubbish at sewing, but I like having my hands busy and my mind blank. Well, never blank, but drifting, if you know what I mean.

I seem to have reached a crisis point in my life; a quiet creeping sort of crisis that has fallen on me like fog, rather than crashing into my life like a runaway train in a disaster movie as my crises normally do. It is a fog with all sorts of horrible things lurking in it. I hate horror.

All the things I have struggled with my whole life seem to have come crunching together this week. My lack of confidence and self-belief have crunched against my delusional confident sense of self. A see-saw of I’m a crap writer, I can write, I’m a crap writer, I can write. Alongside that, my lazy self is yelling at my hardworking persona. My lazy self says It’s good enough, just move on. My hardworking persona says; you know that’s rubbish. The whole thing needs tearing apart and putting back together again. My Mummy self says, give it up and focus on the children. My working self says; you gotta earn some cash.  My sensible self says, well you aint going to do that writing, which prompts the realistic voice to pipe up; best get a proper job if money is what you want.

In the end I arrive at the same point I have reached many times in my life. I want someone else to tell me what to do. So I read some blogs, some books, a load of web pages. I read the helpful feedback on my blog and on other blogs.

And then I go slightly crazy.

They say being a writer is a lonely business, but once you tentatively reach out to the internet, there are a million voices, all offering advice. I started listening to those voices sometime last week, and now my ears are ringing worse than tinnitus.

So I asked myself, what do I want? And here are my answers, in the order they came to me:

1. I want to make money

2. I want positive feedback from my endeavours

3. I want to write

Now even in my delusional state I know that those three things are in the wrong order, and actually the middle one shouldn’t be there at all.

I know that the only way to write anything worth reading is to do it because you are passionate about it, not for financial gain.

I know that if you rely on glowing reviews to give you confidence you are destined to be miserable forever.

I know that very very few people make a living out of writing.

I know all those things as facts, but I cannot change the way I feel. I cannot still the voice that wants those three things. And because those three things are, essentially, mutually exclusive, I am frozen.

Do I go back to attempting to write Mills & Boon, as the way most likely to provide an income, if I can hit upon the style of writing they are happy with?

Do I sign up to a course, such as the HTRYN that has been recommended to me, to beat my current WIP into shape, fixing all the things I know that are wrong with it, such as lack of a decent main character (It needs  lots of work to be the novel I know it can be)?

Do I tidy my novel up around the edges and keep sending it out to agents, hoping to get lucky because, hey, I’ve read a lot worse?

Or do I pack it all in for another year, as I did when my son was born, and focus instead on being the Mummy I should be, rather than the Writer I want to be?

I have no answers.

In the meantime, I will keep making butterflies. At least the kids agreed, when they got home, that they are pretty.

When is it good enough?

Once again I woke with a story in my head. Well, not so much a story as a What if on my own life. Actually much of my fiction is based on that premise, so much so that I sometimes write the real names instead of the pseudo made up ones. This was definitely one of those.

Of course, me being me, I immediately abandoned my current novel (the one that also came in a dream, the one where, 35k words in, I still have no idea what it’s about) to write this story. Luckily it came out as a short story, two scenes, 2,700 words. I’d nailed it in less than two hours over tea and toast in the coffee shop, after dropping off the kids.

Problem is, I think it’s great. I bought a copy of Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special on the way home (I don’t know a lot about where to sell short stories, so it seemed a good place to start) and I’m all set to send it in. Besides I need to get something published soon before the bills send me back to work.

And that’s my Achilles Heel.

Having been told in the past that my writing was dull, any time I pen anything vaguely readable I’m just so excited I think This is it!

Of course, in reality, I should add ‘sh’ to the beginning of that last word because, as a first draft, it undoubtedly is. The difficulty for me is, once I’ve accepted the ‘sh’ bit, I don’t know what I need to do to make it better.

I write in a certain style, quite simple and chatty. Should I be more descriptive, build in alliteration, metaphors, similes? More sounds, smells, colour? Make my plots more complicated or daring. Make my characters suffer more, make them funnier? And if I do all that (assuming I can, of course, which is another issue entirely), will it retain what I love most; the easy going chatty style? And more importantly, will it sell?

I was always told to write for intrinsic rather than extrinsic reasons: I do love to write and that’s mostly why I do write, but, you know, the bills still need to be paid. I know that only a lucky few make a fortune as a writer, and not that many make a living. I just need to make enough to pay for childcare.  

Hmmm. Answers on a post card please!


I received my first rejection letter today. I feel a bit empty. Not because I care, really. Despite wild delusions that any agent would, of course, immediately demand to see the full manuscript (and who doesn’t have those?), I didn’t really expect to be accepted that quickly or easily. I anticipate many rejections before I find success (assuming I ever find it). I didn’t even expect a personalised letter detailing why my novel was rejected.

Which is lucky.

In fact, I think the real reason I feel flat is because I got a response so quickly. My Mills and Boon submission disappeared into the ether, regardless of assurances that a response would be received inside six months, and despite several attempts to elicit said response from them. Somehow that not knowing gave me hope, at least for a while. (I can safely assume that, after nine months, I am not a Mills & Boon writer!)

Maybe hope is what it is all about. Possibly that is why I have only recently sent my first submission to an agent, despite having written four novels in the last three years. Until it has been rejected, there is still the hope that your novel is the next big thing.

But here’s the rub. My novel could still be the next big thing. One rejection is just one person’s opinion. As my rejection letter was signed ‘Bryony’ rather than the name of the agent I sent my submission to, I assume my novel was perused by a reader. So that one opinion wasn’t even the agent’s.

I think the bit that leaves me feeling insecure is not knowing how far into my first three chapters the reader got before they hit the ‘no thanks’ button and moved on. What if they hated it after the first paragraph? I’ll never know.

My rejection letter recommended the services of a literary consultant. I admit I have considered getting a professional view of my work. I just can’t quite bring myself to pay someone – it makes me nervous, with hints of vanity press and the like.

Does anyone have any experience of literary consultants?

In the meantime, I shall plough on with novel #5 and eventually, after another few months, I might find the courage to send some chapters of one of my growing stack of novels to another agent.

Until then, I have hope.

Life vs. Writing Update: A New Beginning

Picture of a dragon

Okay, so sometimes sleep deprivation can have its advantages. After a week of broken nights I woke up yesterday, out of a deep three-hour sleep (a miracle in itself), with a complete novel in my head.

Unfortunately, since the new carpets were fitted, I haven’t got around to putting my notebook and pen back under the bed. Plus I had smallest child asleep on me, and eldest child wriggled into our room in her sleeping bag shortly after. Needless to say, by the time I’d got my mobile fired up and tapped out some of what was in my mind, I had lost most of it.

I remember the gist though, because it couldn’t have been further from my last four novels.

This one is going to be a young adult book. In the first person. A mystery, mostly in real-time.

Oh and it has dragons in it.

Not really chick lit or romance. Though it might have some romance. I haven’t worked that bit out yet.

I’m quite daunted about the whole thing. I’ve never written in the first person; I haven’t been a teenager for almost two decades (my kids are nearer being teenagers than me, how horrific is that? They’re only 1 and 3); I don’t have any writing skills or techniques for real-time, suspense or mystery, and I know next to nothing about writing fantasy.

Still, it certainly comes under the Option 2, try something new. (See previous post).

Anyway, with it being Easter and all, my next writing day isn’t until next Thursday. In the mean time, I’m trying not to think about the ideas too much, as I know from experience I need to start writing without thinking, or I’ll kill it before it’s born (I’m a master at self-censure).

I do know the first line (for now), I wrote it down in my phone before the vision faded.

“My name is Leah, and I know the time and place of my death.”

Well, that may well change, but my first lines rarely do, as they are usually the freewrite prompt for the whole novel concept. We shall see.

Exciting though.