More Amazing Milestones: 2013 365 Challenge #200

Top 200 words in Two-Hundred Steps Home

Top 200 words in Two-Hundred Steps Home

Today is a milestone day. Two-Hundred Steps Home reached 150,000 words and this is the 200th installment in my daily blog challenge for 2013. Wow.

It seemed fitting for Claire to receive some recognition, so I’ve given her a little pat on the back and sent her to a gorgeous-looking hostel that I quite fancy visiting myself! (I investigated, but it would be cheaper to stay in a hotel, although not the same as a Victorian Gothic Manor House!)

I’ve also been playing with Wordle: creating word maps of the most frequent words used in the novel (top 150 and top 200 words). I’m concerned that ‘like’, ‘felt’, and ‘thought’ are up there: a bit too much telling and not enough showing going on! Making word maps was a lovely way to spend an hour listening to the cricket when I should have been writing. I’ve found a breezy spot at the kitchen table, but the brain is still full of fog.

A time-eating exercise for a creative person

A time-eating exercise for a creative person

It seems fitting to use a milestone post to talk about my second-ever piece on this blog.

As I mentioned yesterday, I originally had the intention of discussing writing craft on Writer/Mummy. However I began following great blogs like Novels from the Ground Up (sadly no longer updated, but still with some great posts worth reading) and Daily Writing Tips, and a hundred others, and realised that I was in no position to preach.

Re-reading those early posts, though, I do think I had something to share. Many people want to write a novel but have a zillion reasons why they can’t. That was me, five years ago. The posts talked through how I turned that around. However, of my top tips for How to write a novel (with young kids underfoot), I only wrote posts on half, because it turned out I didn’t have enough experience to cover them all (even though I was teaching Creative Writing at the time!).

Playing with Wordle to celebrate 200th post

Playing with Wordle to celebrate 200th post

These were my top tips:

1. Throw away the excuses

2. Write what you know

3. Carry your story with you

4. Get Professional Help

5. Find fabulous friends

6. Finish, Finish, Finish

7. Put your critical hat on

8. Get it out there

As you can see, I only wrote posts on the first four points. When it came to writing about beta readers, critique groups or social media I hadn’t a clue. I was too scared to join a critique group and I didn’t have a beta reader, except my husband. The same went for finishing a novel (to final edit, not just the first draft), undertaking critical editing or getting to a point of releasing a book into the wild (either traditional route or via self-publishing).

Hard to choose my favourite (I have 12!)

Hard to choose my favourite (I have 12!)

Now I feel I can write about those things. Apart from critique groups: that fear still stands (and it’s harder to fit that in around a sporadic schedule than any of the other elements.)

It will be difficult not to reinvent the wheel, but at the least I can direct people to some of the amazing websites I’ve since discovered (like Catherine, Caffeinated: the self-publishing guru!)

I just have to decide whether to write them as standalone posts, on top of my daily blog, or cheat and combine the two! I think I’d prefer to do them standalone, and re-blog all five original posts as well, but that might be overkill: what do you think?


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 made it back to the car without crumpling. Her hands shook as she tried to fit the key into the lock and, for the first time in weeks, she missed her Audi with its central locking fob.

Will they take my car back? Claire climbed into the Skoda and ran her hands around the sticky steering wheel. Loathe as she was to admit it, she would miss her little Stella.

Perhaps they’ll gift it to me as a leaving present. Her laugher filled the enclosed space. The idea that anyone would miss her was a joke. I haven’t heard from a single person in three months.

Although Claire had discovered how deep her work-friendships ran at her leaving party, it still hurt to realise she could vanish so completely from their lives without so much as an email to say farewell.

The adrenalin continued to rush through her veins, giving the sensation that she could scale a cliff face or run a marathon. Knowing the payback would be vicious, Claire pushed aside her emotions and shoved the gear stick into first.

Wandering around town earlier, Claire had toyed with the idea of staying the night in Manchester. Maybe Great John Street hotel, where she could lounge in the roll-top bath, safe in the knowledge that someone famous would be sleeping in a room nearby. By the time they saw her expenses it would be too late to challenge the cost.

Now, though, she had no desire to linger in her former home town. Her nose itched with the grit of traffic fumes and her temper frayed as she jostled with the sleek silver commuter cars heading for the suburbs.

Choosing the route south, Claire ran through the map of hostels in her mind, trying to decide the nearest one that she had yet to visit.

I don’t think I stayed in all the Peak District hostels round Buxton. If I have to work to the end of the week, I may as well stay somewhere pretty.


Claire pulled up outside Gradbach hostel, glad to finally come to a halt. The drive had taken twice as long as it should have, due to rush hour traffic leaving Manchester. In front of her was a building that looked like an old mill, nestled deep in the trees. Drinking in the clean air as she might a chilled glass of rosé, Claire felt the space and silence surround her, and smiled.

The reception desk welcomed her with polished wood and bright lights. A smiling lady, with a smart dark bob and glasses, approached with a question on her face.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m hoping you might have a bed for tonight?” Claire’s tummy rumbled and she remembered she hadn’t eaten since breakfast, twelve hours earlier. “And somewhere to eat?”

The woman’s face fell and she shook her head. “I’m so sorry; this hostel isn’t open to the public during term time. School and group visits only. We have a group in at present.”

As she said the words, Claire heard the sound of chatter coming from deep within the converted mill. Disappointment dragged at her limbs and she grasped the reception desk for support.

I could be lying in a bubble bath, looking forward to a rare steak and a gin and tonic.

With a sigh, Claire raised a smile and directed it at the hostel manager. “Can you tell me where the nearest hostel with beds is, please? Or do you have internet so I can get online?”

With a nod, the woman began tapping away at a computer. A frown pulled down her dark eyebrows, and Claire felt ice slide into her stomach.

“Hartington Hall has a vacancy?”

Claire shook her head. “I’ve done that one. And Ravenstor, Yougreave, Eyam.”

Her words brought a puzzled smile to the woman’s face. She turned, as if to speak, but seemed to realise it wasn’t her concern. “How about Ilam Hall?”

It didn’t ring a bell. “Hang on.” Claire pulled out her iPad and looked down her notes. “No, I don’t think so.”

“There’s nothing showing on the website, but I’ll give them a ring. They sometimes reserve a bed or two for emergencies, or someone might not have turned up yet.”

Claire flicked through her guide book to find Ilam Hall. She took in the pictures of the Victorian Gothic manor house, with the double-height windows and sunny, beautifully decorated, rooms. It knocked spots off Great John Street hotel, which she had felt was a bit dark, the one time she had stayed there.

This is why: This is what it’s about. Gorgeous, undiscovered properties. Who knew they were here, or that you could stay in them for a small amount of money? Okay, they’re not all like that, but enough. Who needs the Maldives, or New Zealand, when there are such gems right on the doorstep?

Claire held her breath, as the hostel manager began talking to someone on the phone. Please have space. My soul needs this.

As the woman smiled, Claire felt her heart lift and began to breathe again.

“You’re in luck,” she said, as she hung up the phone. “They’ve had a couple of girls call up to say they’re staying in their current hostel a further night. It’s only a dorm room bed, but I assumed you would take it, given how late it is.”

Claire looked out the window, surprised to see it had gone dark. “Oh yes. Will I still be able to get dinner?”

“I should think so. I’ll call and tell them you’d like to eat when you arrive.”

“Thank you, and thank you for your help.”

The woman hesitated, then spoke in a rush. “I have to ask. Are you the lady writing the blog? About the hostels? Only we’ve really enjoyed it and I wondered when you might come here.”

Surprised, Claire nodded.

“Will you come back? We’re open in the school holidays for families and other travellers.”

Claire thought about her meeting earlier with Carl, and her interview later in the week. “I don’t know. I am thinking about doing something different for a while.”

The manager’s face fell, but she nodded. “I understand. It must be exhausting, moving every day. Let me know, if you do decide to come. We’ll make sure you get a nice room.” With a shy smile, she added, “I understand you probably stay anonymous. Otherwise how could you write a fair review? It’s been great learning about what the other hostels are like. I haven’t been to many. I don’t have time!” She gestured at the mill around her and laughed. “Anyway, I’m detaining you. I’m sure you’re ready for dinner and bed. Do you need directions to Ilam?”

Claire shook her head. “No, I have satnav. Thank you, though, for reading the blog. It’s nice to know the words aren’t just disappearing into the ether.”

With new food for thought, Claire made her way back to the car.


My NaNoWriMo Thoughts

It’s that time of year again when people kiss goodbye to their families, put the takeaway numbers on speed dial, stock up on coffee and chocolate, and launch themselves into NaNoWriMo.

This is my fifth year and most of my novels started life in November. For those of you who have never heard of it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writers Month, and is about “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon” (or writing 50,000 words in the month of November, but that doesn’t sound as poetic or inspiring!) 

There are plenty of blog posts better than mine that will tell you how to structure your NaNoWriMo novel, or how to edit it when it’s all over. [Oh my, turns out there is actually a National Novel Editing Month, held in March. And I thought it was just my wishful thinking. Count me in!]

There are discussions as to whether you can really write a novel in 30 days and whether it is insulting to “proper” writers for people to think they can. I don’t feel qualified to write on any of those things, even if it hadn’t already been done. I guess everything to do with NaNoWriMo has been done, given what a phenomenon it is. However, for those that have no idea what NaNo is, or are contemplating trying it for the first time this year, I thought I would tap out my top tips.

My NaNoWriMo Top Tips:

1. Write something on Day One. Anything. Even if you’re a Pantser and your mind is blank, make up a character from five items in your work space and think of something awful that might be happening to them. The longer you leave it before getting words on the page the less likely you are to start at all.

2 Try and keep up with the word-count chart but don’t panic if you fall behind. Once you get some momentum you can do astounding things (I wrote something like 17k words in my last 36 hours last year.)

3. Do not re-read more than your last line (just to see where you got to). Even better, end your writing session with a couple of notes about what might happen next so you can start writing the minute you sit at your desk.

4. DO NOT EDIT. If you can handle it by all means leave spell check on and fix as you go. If that causes you to re-read, worry, and question the quality of your work, turn spell check off or – better still – write in Notepad or equivalent.

5. Engage with the community. Read some Facebook posts, follow on Twitter. If you can afford it, donate to NaNo and get all the motivational emails. They’re the reason I come back each year.

At the end of November you won’t have a finished novel. As most novels are nearer 100k than 50k you won’t even have a finished first draft. But you’ll have something. Even if you bin half, or put the whole thing in a hidden folder on your computer, you will still have something to be proud of.

Before discovering NaNoWriMo I was convinced I couldn’t write a novel because I had no imagination. I was wrong. I may not have the sharpest literary mind in the world but I can spin a yarn. I’ve discovered I’m more Pantser than Plotter and my main weakness is generating conflict. I know I can write good dialogue and that I can churn out 50k words of reasonable first draft in 4 weeks, even when it isn’t November.

I have no idea what I’m writing about this year (as you’ll see in my guest interview on Findingmycreature in a couple of weeks) but I’m unfazed. In fact, after weeks of tedious editing, I’m so excited I’m counting down the days. To switch off my brain, commune with my subconscious, tell my inner editor to eff off, & just write?

Bring it on!

Marketing Time-line for Self-Publishing

Image representing Lulu as depicted in CrunchBaseWhile I wait (im)patiently for feedback from my beta readers I have been worrying about Marketing.

[As an aside, I have had one comment so far, from my mum, and her feedback was – it’s not as good as your last book (the one that was rejected from Mills & Boon). That’s filled me with confidence.]

I find the marketing of my book far more daunting than anything else I’ve done so far. I’ve talked before about how rubbish I am at selling myself and this includes trying to engage on social media. I am self-conscious even writing on other people’s blogs or twitter feeds (twitter still baffles me) and when I browse around people’s sites, whether on Facebook or Pinterest, I get distracted and forget why I am there.

I have searched around on the internet for advice, but it has been difficult to find a cohesive plan for things you can and should do to help market your book. Until I recently found this great post on the Lulu blog, with a timeline of things to do before you publish.

It starts 12 weeks before launch, so I’m way behind if I want to do all these things before publishing Pictures of Love in August. That said, as I haven’t had any beta reader feedback yet, I don’t know if August is still feasible. If I have a complete re-write to do, on top of finishing Dragon Wraiths by September, it is likely I will have to push back the release date.

I was going to summarise the Lulu post and include the best bits here, but as it is all very useful, I have posted the complete text below. I’m off to work out what I can do in the couple of hours a week I find time to do marketing!

Please let me know how you get on and any other ideas you have to get your book noticed.

The Post:

On Lulu’s blog there’s been a lot of talk about the “how” of marketing (Pinterest, Blogging, Twitter, writing a press release, video chat, etc.) but little focus on the “when,” which is an equally important component of a successful book marketing campaign.

Here are some general guidelines you can follow compiled in a simple marketing timeline to help you plan:

10–12 weeks out: Do your research. Find appropriate blogs and media outlets that might want to review your book and compile a list of media contacts. Come up with a list of friends who can help spread the announcement of your publication and ask each one personally for support. When you reach out to contacts, offer them a free copy of your book and ask for pre-publication quotes to be used in your book’s detail page at various online retailers.

*Expert tip: Make the first chapter of your book available for free for anyone who might want to review your book or include it in a news article. You can do this by creating a free eBook on that includes just the first chapter of your book as well as contact details for press inquiries.

8–10 weeks out: Draft your press release and any announcement emails you’re planning on sending out. Make sure to re-read them numerous times and get friends or family to proof them for you. Ensure that if you’ve not already done so, your Facebook page, Twitter and Pinterest account, and blog include up-to-date info on your upcoming book. Be sure that every update, post, announcement and release includes a direct link to where readers can pre-order your book. (You can use a URL shortener like if you like). Now’s a great time to do a cover reveal on social media — unless, that is, you’re planning to work with a blogger for an exclusive reveal on someone else’s site.

6–8 weeks out: Send your press release and start pitching bloggers. This is also a good time to formally announce the release of your book online. When doing so, consider including a question on Twitter and Facebook to encourage engagement and make sure to provide a link where readers can pre-order your book. We know you already know, but double-check that landing page to make sure that your cover image, title, description and reviews are all up-to-date and grammatically correct.

4–6 weeks out: Start thinking about adding “flair” to your social media. Launch week-by-week book giveaways and poll your fans or create extra content (a book playlist, an author interview, etc.) to generate excitement. If you’ve created a video trailer, announce its premiere date on your blog and then post it about four weeks out. As the one-month mark approaches, follow-up with bloggers and other media outlets if you’ve not yet heard back from them.

2–4 weeks out: Post a teaser chapter to your blog — either all at once or split it up to tease out future buyers even longer. Announce winners of any giveaways or contests you’ve run and launch a final giveaway extravaganza (a book plus swag that relates to your book) to coincide with your book’s release date. Continue to make sure that that any good reviews and/or awards you receive are featured on your Lulu, Amazon,, etc. pages.

0–2 weeks out: You’re in the homestretch! Be prepared, if you’ve done your research right, to be doing blog interviews, updating social media frequently about not only the book, but your excitement, and featuring content and giveaways to celebrate! However, on the day your book goes on sale, give yourself a break. Leave the computer behind and enjoy a breakfast/lunch/dinner out. You deserve it.

Remember, just because your book is out doesn’t mean your marketing efforts end. Continue to look for larger news opportunities to tie your book to, update your social media outlets and blog on a regular basis so your community grows, and keep on top of awards you can submit your book for. More than anything, be creative, take risks, and, later on, hopefully reap the rewards.

Writing a Synopsis

I spent last night searching the Internet for agents that accept email submissions (I don’t mind being rejected, but I’d rather not use a tree’s worth of paper doing it).

During my search, I came cross a great page of tips on the 3 Seas Literary Agency website, which included this advice for improving your manuscript’s chances:

Write a Great Synopsis

  • The synopsis for fiction works should include the beginning, the conflicts, the resolutions and the ending.
  • It must be written in the present tense.
  • A synopsis represents you and your work. Take your time, make it interesting, read it out loud, and wherever necessary, improve…improve…improve it, until you are happy with the final result.

(There are also great tips on writing a query letter, which I should also have followed!)

I’m sure there are other sites offering more detailed help. In fact, I’m sure I taught a lesson covering the same stuff. It’s not rocket science, but I particularly valued point three, the reminder to “improve… improve… improve.”

It’s amazing how quickly you can forget the basics, in a rush of blood to the head. I spent six months carefully crafting and re-crafting my novel. When I finally decided to be brave and send it to an agent, I spent about 90 minutes writing a cover letter and synopsis.

This wasn’t just the usual laziness, lack of time or child intervention. I found writing the synopsis harder than writing the novel. Also, foolishly, I didn’t see it as that important: after all, the agent has my first 3 chapters, surely if they’re hooked they’ll want to read more and if they’re not, what difference would a good synopsis make?

Silly really.

After all those weeks pouring heart and soul into my novel, surely I could afford to spend more than an hour or two trying to sell it? That’s when I realised the problem: I find it impossible to sell myself or anything I have created.

Before commencing my life as writermummy, I worked as an abstract artist – leaving my “proper job” to paint full-time. After six months, I had to return to the real world to earn a living, because I couldn’t sell my work to strangers. It turns out there is only so much art you can sell to friends (even lovely friends with a farmhouse in Luxembourg!)

Now I face the same barrier. I have to sell something I have created.

So my challenge, should I choose to accept it, is to find some objectivity and learn how to sell my own novel. If I can’t convince you, or an agent, or a publisher, to read it, then I may as well not have bothered writing it in the first place.

Any Synopsis-writing Tips gratefully received.

Get Professional Help

Cover of "Plot & Structure: (Techniques A...

Even if the story is burning in you and flowing out faster than you can type, you still might benefit from professional help, particularly when it comes to editing your first draft.

If you are disciplined enough to work solo there are some amazing books to help you start writing or to hone your skills as a writer. These are my favourites (I intend to review them when I get a chance, so watch this space.)

General Books on Writing

Teach Yourself Creative Writing, published by Hodder Education, London, By Stephen May (2008)

Starting to Write, published by Studymates Limited, Abergale, By Dr Rennie Parker (2007)

Creative Writing, published by How To Books Ltd., Oxford, By Adele Ramet (2007)

More Specialised Works

Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue, published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. By Gloria Kempton (2004)

Beginnings, Middles & Ends, published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio By Nancy Kress (1993)

Description & Setting [Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Believable World of people, places, and events], published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio By Ron Rozelle, (2005)

Plot & Structure [Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish], published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, By James Scott Bell, (2004)

Characters & Viewpoint, published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, By Orson Scott Card, (1988)


If, like me, you need to be led, cajoled or terrified into getting pen to paper there are various course options. Try your local government or college website for free or low-cost Creative Writing courses. I taught a couple of free PCDL (Personal and Community Development Learning) courses at New College Stamford with a lovely group of students, who went on to form a writing group.

If you want something more detailed, then a university or distance learning course might be an option. The Open University does a range of Start Writing short courses or they have a nine-month creative writing course (which I highly recommend).

Finally there is no substitute for reading as widely and as voraciously as you can. Learning from the people who have already been published is a good step in the right direction to getting there yourself. Don’t limit yourself to your chosen genre – there is much to be learnt from reading outside your comfort zone.

As Stephen May puts it in his Teach Yourself Creative Writing,

“Writers choose their own mentors. Anyone still in print or still available on the shelves of a library is there to help guide you towards expressing yourself clearly and well. To help you find your own voice.”

Who are your favourite mentors?

Carry your story with you

For me, one of the secrets of the writer/mummy is to always take your story with you in your head. If you carry your characters in your mind you can chat to them, shout at them, fire questions at them – their answers won’t always be predictable and the conversations can be very interesting.

Creative writing advice books will tell you that the more you know about your characters the better your writing will be. If you are the kind of person that makes lists or is very good at being thorough, there are various forms available online to work out all the details of your characters – star sign, favourite colour, place of birth. This is a particularly comprehensive one I have discovered (but am far too lazy to fill out for any of my characters!)

These character maps are useful, they enable you to be consistent and understand how your character might react to a given situation. However, if you’re honest, could you say what your best friend’s favourite colour is or where she was born? That doesn’t mean you don’t know her inside out, though, does it? You learn more about her real character from gossiping over a glass of wine or from watching how she copes in a crisis.

For me the same can be said of my characters. When I’m out and about I like to imagine what my characters would say to each other, how they would handle a range of situations. I fantasize about their futures in the same way I used to fantasize about my own whenever I got dumped (you know, those scenes where he comes back grovelling and begging for you to forgive him, but you spurn him with a toss of your sleek blonde hair.)

It can help if you think of plot and character development as a series of ‘What if?’ and ‘Why?’ questions. What if your female protagonist jacked in her job to take up sky-diving, what if your male lead got dumped at the altar? Why would she take up sky-diving – is it to conquer her fear of heights, because her ex said she was too scared to do anything dangerous, because her mum forbade her and she’s just pissed off at the world. Why did he get dumped? Was he a bastard, did she meet someone else? Has his fiancée found out she’s dying of cancer and doesn’t want to put him through the pain of losing her slowly?

When I’m in the throes of writing, particularly in the early days of a new book, my head is flooded with questions and potential answers. I often don’t know the answer that will appear in the book until I write, (and characters have a nasty habit of not doing what they’re told) but I have already played out all the various permutations in my head while in the supermarket queue, driving the car or lying awake in the night between bouts of teething tantrums.

Another important thing is to always have writing implements to hand – a crayon, a notepad, a mobile phone – to write down that dazzling piece of dialogue or dastardly plot twist. Once you start with the what ifs and whys it can lead you down the most meandering of mazes. It’s best to take notes as you go along, unless you’ve had enough sleep to have a particularly retentive memory.

My mobile phone is my most important writing tool, aside from my laptop. (As I write, my mobile phone is dead; I am utterly bereft and trying to fathom how to work my husband’s spare!) I like the phone because I always have it to hand; it is both pen and paper; it doesn’t get scribbled on by the kids (though often covered in yoghurt or chocolate) and – best of all – I can send my texts to my laptop, thus saving me the effort of writing it all twice.

My favourite time to write conversations between my characters is when I’m walking the dog, as I can text and walk at the same time (us mothers are good at multi-tasking, yes?) and for some reason I find the rhythm of walking sets a good pace for dynamic dialogue.

If you think you don’t have time to write, then think of all the times in the day when you can tap out a quick text message – waiting in the supermarket queue, sitting in the car with a sleeping child, lying in the dark waiting for them to go back to sleep. (I wrote some of this section at 6am, on my mobile phone, with a sickly child asleep on my chest.)

So, next time you’re tired of listening to the twentieth rendition of Miss Polly Had a Dolly in the car, pass your toddler a banana and, while she’s busy eating, have a think about the stickiest situation you can land your characters in. Then work out the most outlandish way you can rescue them again.

I would love to hear about your favourite ‘thinking’ times, or your craziest plot twists. What is your favourite way of taking notes?

Write what you know

A mug of tea

Never be afraid to write what you know. If you think your life is boring, you couldn’t be more wrong. People like to hear about lives they don’t live and, most definitely, lives they do live. As a Writer/Mummy, especially as a mother of small children, you can share the horror and humour of everyday life and make a fellow mum laugh in empathy and recognition.

If you don’t believe me, check out the amazing Parenting with Crappy Pictures blog. It never fails to make me smile, laugh, or even weep in shared sympathy. Note how many people follow the blog and read some of the comments. It can be lonely being a mum. There is nothing nicer than hearing you’re not the only one going slightly barmy on too much caffeine and too little sleep.

Talking of caffeine, I have found that cafes and coffee shops are an excellent place to overhear fascinating tales. You don’t have to be hobnobbing with the rich and famous to come up with cracking storylines. The art of penning entertaining dialogue can often be enhanced by surreptitious eavesdropping. (As you develop your writing you’ll learn what to leave out, such as the ums and ahs of natural conversation. I will write more on dialogue in a future post).

I devised an entire character after eavesdropping on a public school boy having lunch with his visiting grandparents. The character doesn’t vaguely resemble the boy – instead it’s the lead protagonist in my first romance – but the ideas flowed from the life the boy was describing and the reactions of his grandfather.

Next time you are surrounded by chaos at breakfast, store in your mind the sights, smells and emotions that bring the scene to life. Today’s grey-hair-inducing tussle with your two-year-old is tomorrow’s true-to-life hilarious scene.


How many times have you moaned to a friend about the horrific supermarket tantrum and realised that, with distance, it was a bit funny.

Even if you don’t want to write about life as a mummy, or your job, or your time at university, or your gap year, your first date, your childhood, your parents. Even if you want to create a fantasy world on planet Zarg with a tin robot as your lead man, you can still take inspiration from the world around you and the life you have lived.

It isn’t just your experiences that inform your writing, but your sensations. The emotions you feel, the physicality of your existence. Childbirth pain? I’m sure the same sensations could translate into how it might feel to be tortured by an alien device. Seeing your little one off to school for the first time? Those feelings of pride and desolation, the swelling heart, the racing pulse, the nausea, might just belong to an Army Sargent sending his troops into a no-win situation.

The most important, unique, thing you can bring to your writing is you.

So, next time your darling daughter is screaming at the top of her shrill register in the biscuit aisle at Sainsbury’s, don’t reach for the Valium, reach for a pen.

How to write a novel (with young kids underfoot)

The Mummy part of Writer/MummyDuring the month of November 2011 I wrote 50,000 words of what has become my third novel, Pictures of Love. Depending on how much you have written in the past, that may sound easy or it may sound incredible.

It felt incredible for me, not just because, before 2008, I had never written more than 100 words of a novel, but because I am a stay-at-home mum with two children under three, a mad labradoodle and a husband who travels a lot. Oh and at the time I had a solo exhibition of my artwork at a Gallery in Stamford, and was running the odd live painting demonstration.

I’m not one of these super-mummies with a full-time job, immaculate house and beautifully behaved children, who still finds time to teach them sign language and who bakes cookies with them on a Sunday.

Well, I do bake with them occasionally, but usually only when we’ve run out of chocolate.

If you want to learn how to be a good mummy, you’re on the wrong site. I try (not always successfully) to accept I’ll only ever be good enough at being a parent.

However if you want to learn some tips on how to be a writer/mummy then I might just be able to help.

I meet many people who “have always wanted to write a book”, whether a novel or a non-fiction work. Since calling myself a ‘writer’ (rather than, as previously, ‘marketing manager’, ‘consultant’, ‘artist’ or ‘full-time-mum’,) I have been amazed how many people have said to me “oh I’ve always wanted to write, but I just can’t because xxxx,’ fill in excuse here.                                           

“I don’t have the time,”

     “I don’t know where to start,”

        “I just can’t write,”

            “My writing is boring.”

I apologise for being blunt.

It’s for your own good.

They are just excuses.


I know this, because I have used every one of them in the past. And, if I hadn’t signed up for the Open University Creative Writing module when I fell pregnant with my first child, as a way to keep my brain moving, I would probably still be trundling out those same excuses.

Two things changed.

Firstly, the OU course taught me that you just need to start writing. You can’t edit a blank page. I learnt many different styles – poetry, life writing, fiction – and lots of excellent techniques on how to be a good writer. And it might have remained just another qualification to add to the vast array I’ve amassed (being an academic junkie who has a perverse pleasure in studying), were it not for the second thing that happened.


I stumbled across Nanowrimo, a couple of months into the course, and my life changed forever. Literally.

Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writers Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. It doesn’t matter what words. You could re-write the phonebook, if that was your desire. The important thing about Nanowrimo is to just keep writing. (If you’ve seen Finding Nemo, think of Dory singing ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming’.)

That first November, I only started half way through the month, and still wrote 28,000 words of what became my first novel, Finding Lucy. It’s not quite finished, more on that later, but the point is it currently stands at 78,000 words. That’s a novel, even if it doesn’t have an ending yet.

And you could do it too.

The following two Novembers I wrote another two 50,000-worders (although the 2010 year was only weeks after I gave birth, and so it is more a journal of round-the-clock feeding and the challenge of having two kids under two.)

The point is, if I can do it, Queen of Excuses that I am, you can too.

I can’t help you sell a £100k three-book deal, because I haven’t done it. 


What I can do is tell you how, in three years, I have progressed from someone who couldn’t get past the first chapter, to someone who has four novels in various stages of completion, including one that I’m getting ready to sell as an e-book for the kindle.

All whilst also doing some teaching, painting, the occasional consultancy project and, of course, caring for my young children (I sketched out the last five chapters of Finding Lucy just a few hours before going into labour – five weeks early – with my second child)

Without even realising it, a dream I had harboured all my life came to fruition. And it all came down to confidence: being told I could be a writer, and then being given the push to go ahead and prove it.

So, here are my top tips on how to get started, how to keep going and, most importantly, how to finish your first book.

(I will add detail to each section in subsequent blogs)

1. Throw away the excuses

2. Write what you know

3. Carry your story with you

4. Get Professional Help

5. Find fabulous friends

6. Finish, Finish, Finish

7. Put your critical hat on

8. Get it out there