Monday, 12 December 2011


Tea and inspiration at Lee Rosy's Nottingham
(pic from
Had another great evening with Writing at Rosy's last Wednesday - it's great mix of writers, which means there's always something surprising to discover when you listen to one another's work, especially when you're all working to the same brief.

This month's homework was to write a story that was exactly 100 words long.  It's not a lot, and it was interesting to see who wrote up to the magic number and who edited down to it (raises hand).

Editing is always tough to start with - I think I can't lose a word; then there's a moment when I understand what's really at the core of the tale.  After that, there's smoke coming off the backspace key.

I checked the wordcount - 99.

It should be the easiest thing - just add one more word somewhere in the text to complete the task.  But the effort I put into finding which words were the essence of the story meant chucking in an adjective willy-nilly made a mockery of the work.  I got there, in the end; but it took me as long to add one word as it did to take out fifty.

It reminded me about the importance individual words can have in the text - how every word should be working as hard as it can to drive the story forwards, to get us closer to our characters.  A great reminder for any writer - and the gingerbread and orange tea at Lee Rosy's was very nice, too.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


What have I discovered this morning?

About an online Christmas wishlist-
A script that won a place on a talent showcase-
A merchant ship sunk in the South Atlantic by the Admiral Graf Spee.

I'm following @RealTimeWWII on Twitter, a six year project by Alwyn Collinson which updates the events of the Second World War in as close to real-time as you can get.  The tweets run from the chipper British public reaction to a failed Lufwaffe bombing run, to the disappearance of patriotic scouts in Poland - you don't know what to expect, but you know it's not going to get any better for a long time.

And because I follow lots of different people, @RealTimeWWII sits alongside tweets about people's 21st century news, plans, loves, hates.  It's strange and fascinating to see these glimpses into the past in this context, and I get the feeling this is how Penny experiences her life as a time traveller, desperate to keep her skill a secret in Hidden Daughter.

And on a slightly less fantastic scale, it's how we all live our lives - parallel strands of existence from horrific to wondrous to humdrum, all mixed up to make us who we are.  Our challenge, like Penny's, is to make sense of it all.  For me, like Penny's continuing story, it's a work in progress.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


As a writer, I'm pretty dedicated to putting words (or at present, changing words) on the page.  But as I continue with the rewrites for Coalface, and begin to write the follow-up to Hidden Daughter, I know there's more to it than that.  Because writing only refers to the process I use for what I really do; which is storytelling.

Part of my new 'to finish reading' pile-
don't even get me started with
what's on the E-book reader...
Getting an experience of storytelling from the outside looking inwards is as important as being inside your own story; a timely reminder that whatever you think of your story, the audience/reader will probably be thinking about it from another perspective.  In a very real sense, your story becomes their story. 

It was great to experience storytelling from both perspectives when Sent/Received was performed alongside works by other writers at the Word of Mouth's horror event recently.  Now I'm going to continue the experience by actually finishing the pile of novels I've started reading during 2011, then misplaced when the spectre of work tapped me on the shoulder.  It's a bad habit, and it's going to stop.

So here's the plan: if we bump into one another and I can't tell you what I was last reading, I owe you a coffee/tea/beverage.  Because like writers, readers finish.  Or wind up buying a lot of coffee.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Sent/Received at Broadway Nottingham

Rachael Pennell & Jonathan Greaves
performing 'Sent/Received'

(pic courtesy Mayhem Festival)

Another great performance of Sent/Received on Monday night - my thanks to Andrea Milde for directing, Robin Vaughan-Williams for his tech skills and to Johnathan Greaves and Rachael Pennell for bringing my strange little tale of text messaging to life.  And a special thank you to everyone who came to listen to our work - I really appreciate it, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Now it's back to my rewrites for Coalface - a very different world of thrills and suspense...

Sunday, 30 October 2011


Had a fantastic time watching Sent/Received's first performance as part of Skype Me! at Showroom 5 last night.  As well as hearing works from local poets and writers, I had the chance to enjoy the company of performers from three other continents - something the generation before me couldn't dream of making happen without a lot of time and money.  True, there were glitches along the way (ably resolved by the unflappable Robin Vaughan-Williams), but it only seemed to add to the experience - I was really glad to play a part in it.

It's still sinking in that the words I began to write in June are now being performed just a few months later.  The audience laughed in the right places (and some unexpected ones), then became very quiet as my text-message tale unfolded before them.  Looking forward to seeing our next performance at Broadway Nottingham as part of the Mayhem Festival on Monday night, along with ghostly archive recordings and live readings from Niki Valentine, Pete Davis, Megan Taylor, Charlotte Thompson and graphic novellist Brick.

Still very nervous, still very excited - I'll be the one hiding behind the sofa.

Friday, 28 October 2011


Good with haddock
Been away from the internet for the last few days.  I said goodbye to Andrea, Jonathan, Rachel and Robin at the Monday rehearsal for Sent/Received, started the car, and wound up in the Lake District.  It’s been a good few days off- as well as the obligatory fish & chips & local beer in Keswick, I managed to find my way up the side of a fell.
When we set off for Skiddaw, it was one of those Autumn mornings full of promise and sunshine; good enough to keep you going in the cold as you tramped along the path.  Then we hit the cloud cover - thicker and thicker, wetter and wetter.
It’s been a terrific experience watching the rehearsals for Sent/Received, but now the cloud has come down around me as I make my way to its premiere in Sheffield on Saturday night, before a second night in Nottingham on Halloween.

Probably the summit,
with view across to
Bassenthwaite.  Probably.
Standing in a cloud is a strange thing.  The water vapour drifts past your eyes, and the lack of distance vision creeps up on you until you realise you can't see beyond ten paces ahead.  Or ten paces behind.  And although the path up the fell is well laid out, and the cairns solid and frequent, you get an eerie feeling the herdwick sheep were on to something when they stayed put as you climbed past them.  All you can rely on are your ancient instincts, like your ancestors did before satnav. 

That you will find your way.

At the last rehearsal, there was an incredible moment where I forgot I’d written the script, and got lost in the performance; I’m trusting my instincts that the audience will get lost in the same cloud and enjoy Sent/Received the same way.  If you’re coming along to either night, say hello; it’ll be good to share the journey off the peak before I set off for the next one.

Monday, 17 October 2011


One of the things we talked about at October's Writing at Rosy's meet-up was rewriting; I commented it's hard to know when to stop once you start.

For instance, I've been reworking the current draft of Hidden Daughter while rewriting the first draft of Coalface, my YA novel.  They're really different, but the experience gained from writing one is helping me see how to get the best in the other.  But as I switch between projects, there's a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I'll be back there again.

So how do you stop?  Have someone take it off you.

I had the privilege of sitting in on rehearsals for Sent/Received this weekend; a brilliant and terrifying experience.  Characters I had only heard in my head before were now walking and talking in front of me.
Even so, I couldn't stop myself editing the fifth draft copy of the script in my lap - then I realised it didn't matter one bit.  Because it's no longer being performed by me, to me.  Sent/Received has a new voice and a new audience beyond the safety of my laptop.  I did what I do best in these uncharted situations- stayed quiet, put the kettle on, and listened.  
Theatre director Andrea Milde has her own vision of how to tell the story with the cast, and it's been fantastic to watch their experience bring Sent/Received to life, so I can learn how a story unfolds outside of my imagination.

It's something I'm looking forward to doing with my novels in the future; right now, I'm looking forward to rediscovering Sent/Received with an audience at the end of this month in Sheffield and Nottingham.  Hope you can join us - I'll be the one looking for a kettle.

Monday, 10 October 2011


Running was hard yesterday.  Really hard. 
I felt good setting off, then had a classic 'why am I doing this' moment, then got past that, then bumpfh.  There's no other way to describe it; bumpfh.  I just didn't feel like I had a run inside me.
It can be the same with writing.  All of a sudden, the clatter of the keyboard stops, and I realise the cursor hasn't done anything but blink at me for five minutes, like a patient dog.
Everything inside me told me to turn back.  Not your day.  Give up on a bad job.  Bumpfh is a comfy thing; cosy, reassuring as it helps you take off the running shoes, or switch windows from your WIP to your browser.  Or switch off.

In the wind and dark, I switched playlists on my mp3 player, and kept going.

Some of it was walking; my body was part of the bumpfh conspiracy, pulling a stitch out of the 'can't run' bag to block my way.  Some of it felt like spectacularly poor running; the kind where you think you're not making any more progress than you would with a swift walk.

But I moved forwards.

At the end, I did a sprint finish in the dark; I outran the security light at the end of my street, passing it before it could cast it's glare over me.  I felt that sensation I must have had when I ran downhill as a kid; when your body places your feet with a precision you couldn't dream of actively replicating.  It felt amazing.
That's what this blog post is about; just the process of writing, putting words in order on screen or on paper is important to me.  It should be rewrites for Coalface, but this is a good alternative.  All I have to do is keep the words moving, and the internal power of Freddy's story will do the rest.

I ran yesterday.  And I'm writing today.  Because that's what I do to move forward.  I hope you move forward today, too.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Challenges Pt2

A novel? In 25 words? 
Yes!  Well, sort of.

My second brain diversion this week was the 25 word pitch challenge in Nicola Morgan's excellent blog, Help! I need a Publisher.  Watching other writers work their way through versions of their pitch has been fascinating and inspiring.  And more than a little daunting.  But if they can roll up their sleeves and whittle thousands and thousands of words away to leave twenty five that excite, intrigue and engage, so can I.

So... as Coalface is still a work in progress, so I'm pitching my first novel, Hidden Daughter.  So far, I've got to this:

She'll risk anything to secure her child's future; even history itself. Now they want to know how she time travels without a trillion dollar machine.

If I had an extra word, I'd be able to do more; but rules are rules, right?  What do you think?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Challenges Pt1

I'm a problem solver.  It's a bad habit, especially when the problems you want to solve aren't the ones you should be solving.

And although I'm loving the rewrites on my YA Victorian adventure Coalface, I couldn't resist solving a couple of other things on the way.  Especially when the going gets muddy as we follow Freddy's quest to get his name back.  The big difference is, I've not alphabetized my sock drawer (for a change); I've got stuck into some writing challenges.

There is no I in 'team'- but there is 'Tea; m.'
Writing at Rosy's is a new writing group in Nottingham; they meet at Lee Rosy's Tea on Broadway, and each month there's a challenge set for the next meeting.  The October challenge is to start a story that already has an ending.  Just the same as writing the end of a story from a starting line, right?  Wrong.
It's worth mulling it over a cuppa for five minutes, just to see how just one word in your previous draft can constrain and your storytelling if you're not careful.  It's reminded me to question everything in the stories I'm rewriting - I've already had to dump one of my 'darlings' this week.

So I've stuck with it, and finished the first draft this afternoon.  I'm looking forward to giving it a good edit after it's mashed in the pot for a couple of days, then seeing what everyone else has come up with on the night.  If you're busy working on your brilliant version, see you there.

Monday, 3 October 2011


Had a busy weekend of writing and toasting - I caught up with Jo, a writing buddy who I hadn't seen for ages, to celebrate the launch of her new book (puts down tasty canape, holds up book).  I'm really pleased for her, and hope she does well as she begins to share it with the rest of the world.

And now I'm back to finishing Coalface; the pressure's on, after making a rash promise I'd have it done by the end of this month.  There's a choice to make at this point - ignore the party-fuelled bravado, or take it on and make it happen.  So that night, out came the laptop, and by the end of a long day, another chapter was done.

And I'd written something new.

Coalface is set in an alternate Victorian England - familiar, possible, but very different in many ways, including the songs people sing.  Possibly under the influence of the excellent Laura Marling on the CD in the car, I wrote a folk song for Freddy, our brave young hero, as he strives to discover the truth behind his father's fatal accident.

'My Brother's Shovel' would be sung to keep you motivated as you work, to bring your mates together as you celebrate, or to remember those who have gone before you.  It's that kind of song.  When I'm done, I'll post it.

Time for the next chapter - got a deadline to meet.

Monday, 26 September 2011


 The continuing rewrites on Coalface went well last week; I'm really enjoying blending elements of Victorian history with the tale of a boy on a quest to avenge his father's untimely death.  And I'm getting ready to see 'Sent/Received', my text message story come to life at the Broadway in Nottingham next month.

Then this happens.

Picture I took tomorrow.
To paraphrase, OPERA and CERN reckon the neutrinos they've been measuring move faster than the speed of light.  Nothing is supposed to move faster than the speed of light.  It's left a lot of people scratching their heads, not least the reasearchers who repeated the experiment 15,000 times before they went public.

Whether the researchers have missed something obvious (after 15,000 experiments?) or it's something new and extraordinary that has skewed the results, or it's wormholes, or the tooth fairy, the thing that's always mentioned in the news reports is time travel.

So I'm back to thinking about Penny Farthing, the time travelling single mother we meet in Hidden Daughter, who treads a fine line between her dark, extraordinary past, and her desperate plans for her Catherine's future.  And how her fractured world breaks when she becomes the target of other time travellers, determined to know how she slips through history without the help of a trillion dollar machine.

Time to finish Coalface, and continue her story...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

In Progress

Flashback to Lowdham Book Festival...(cue wavy screen)

'So, what are you working on, Andy?'

'I'm writing something using text messages.'

'That sounds really interesting - is it nearly finished?'

'er, Yes!'

'Great, send it to me when you're done.'

'er, Okay...!'

Of course, had no idea whether it was finished, as I had no idea how it would finish.  It was one of those ideas that spring out of nowhere when you're stuck on another project; in my case, Coalface, my YA adventure story.  And as it rumbled around incomplete on a document file, I did wonder whether it was one of those ideas... or one of those ideas.

In that moment, in the fierce spotlight of a cosy cup of coffee behind the NWS book stall, I decided the only way to know was by putting the idea out there, showing people, rather than keeping them locked away, in case they would break.  I took a chance, and told someone.

Five drafts and a hefty bit of editing, it's not just one of those ideas, it's a finished work, ready to read, ready to be presented at Word of Mouth's next event at Broadway Nottingham on Halloween. 
Lesson learned - if you want to know what kind of idea it is, talk about it - not all of it, but enough to for you to know whether it will go the distance.  If it isn't, you've just saved yourself a lot of heartache.  If it is, get going with the next draft- remember, writers finish stuff.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

What I did in my holidays

The light outside my window is bright, but not inviting, and I've had to dig through short sleeved things to unearth my old jumper from the bottom of the drawer - if there's any Summer left, it's not making itself known today.

Victorian pressure cooker/
steampunk ghost-trap -
you be the judge...
It's been a while since I last posted here, but looking back on the last post (to avoid repeating myself) has had a really positive effect - I completed the first draft of my YA Victorian adventure Coalface at the end of July, and have been using the summer to catch up on research while the manuscript steams in the corner, ready for action.

It's been a brilliant exercise - lots of photos of door handles, corridors, and time card clocks while everyone else takes pictures of the formal gardens; out of print books found in second hand stalls; and a trip to my local studies library to look over period newspapers.  It's influenced how I think about telling the story in many different, exciting ways - and reinforced the story I want to tell - a boy's quest to discover the truth behind his father's death, and reclaim his name from infamy.

But I can't start just yet - promised I'd finish something else first.  Will tell you more at the end of the week...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


I'm rotten at handing out writing advice; but I am happy to testify when advice I have been given works, and how it's made a positive change to my writing.
I'm fast approaching the end of the first draft of Coalface, but I've had another deadline to contend with which could not be moved; so my YA Victorian adventure manuscript has had to wait for a couple of days, while I rolled up my sleeves and finished a short play script.

I've been meaning to get it sorted for months - now the deadline is here - no excuses.

Three days later... I'm on the other side of having the short play critiqued, and I'm really glad I stuck with it.  Like any first draft, it needs work; but the key thing is, it's a complete piece with a start, middle and end.  And that means I can understand how to make it work harder without the fear of not knowing how the script works overall.

Finishing proves (to you, if no-one else) you can produce a complete story - something which sets you apart from the person you were when you had half an idea rattling around in a notebook; or worse still, the back of your head.  And a complete story is a story which can be made better.

Right, time to finish something else - back to the Coalface we go...

Thursday, 16 June 2011


I stumbled across this while on a quick visit to Elvaston Castle - it's a folly, inspired (I think) by one of the Harrington family's 19th century trips to the Middle East.  They're restoring it at the moment, and even without glass in it's oval stone windows (behind the scaffolding), it looks beautiful - can't wait to get inside and see the eastern-influenced decoration.

The thing is, I've been to Elvaston Castle more than a few times, and I've never seen it before - shows you there's always something new to learn.  After that free lesson from the world around me, I took another look at Elvaston Castle itself with new eyes, and got another brilliant idea for my YA novel, Coalface- remind me to tell you about that after the rewrites.

So if you're looking for inspiration, get away from your normal environment, and see what's out there - let me know what you find.

Friday, 10 June 2011


So I'm stood there, in a wetsuit.  I try and avoid the bodyboarders who fly past me, wait for a friendly looking wave, then turn around as it wells up against me.  I can feel it's power surge past me and over me, and I move!

About a metre.

The enthusiasm of 'You've got to try it!' had carried me all the way down to a beach in Cornwall, via a wetsuit and bodyboard shop, and plonked me in the water.  Now what?

Getting out was not an option.  I'd come here to do this, and if I came back and had to tell people I bobbed in the water like a plastic bottle, so be it.  There's a bunch of other people out on the water, and many of them are zipping past me like bullets.  But not all of them.  So it's not just me who's having trouble being at one with the waves.  And they're not getting out either.

So I stick with it.  And the more I see the people around me between drenches and mouthfuls of seawater (lovely seawater by the way, very clean), the more I realise the ones who moved like dolphins before are also the ones who are bobbing around like a plastic bottle now, and vice versa.
We're all doing the same thing - sticking with it, getting it wrong, because it's worth the effort when you get it right.  Because getting it wrong is a part of understanding how to get it right.

I cracked it on the third day, and rode my first wave.  And stopped worrying about getting it wrong.
I've spent the rest of this week working on the first draft of my YA novel, Coalface - without worrying about what's right and wrong anymore - because in a first draft, writing it wrong is always better than not writing.  My surf baptism has also inspired me to go back into the water for a couple of other stories that I thought I couldn't do any more with; and after a bit of bobbing about, I can see some good waves coming my way.

Friday, 20 May 2011


I've been tricked by a writer twice this week, and it's been brilliant to experience.  The first was an episode of House MD (not telling which one or what happened - spoilers and all that), where the twist in the tale turned up at just the right time, and I didn't see it coming.  The second time was while I was reading Megan Taylor's brilliant novel 'The Dawning' while I was waiting for an appointment - again, I didn't see it coming.

The stories don't have much in common, even the formats are different.  And when I read the twist, I immediately understood why it was there - no left-field deus ex machina stuff, it made complete sense why the characters were where they were.
So why was I tricked?  Because the characters drew me in to the story so much, I stopped trying to work out what was going to happen next, and started to live the story alongside the characters.  For someone who can't help but second guess the direction of a story from the opening credits (bad habit, keep it to myself - no point in telling the folks around the boat sinks), it's been a good lesson in how to tell a story well enough to stop you thinking about what lies beyond the current scene.

I'm hoping the readers of Hidden Daughter get the same feeling as the life of single-mother-time-travelling-thief Penny unfolds; time will tell.

Saturday, 7 May 2011


Show don’t tell, show don’t tell, show don’t tell.

Every time I write, I work hard to do the former and not the latter; it’s more satisfying for the reader to work out the clues that lead them to discover that X has an unresolved past with Y, than it is for someone to say it (Mike Myers made ‘telling’ rather than showing a character in itself, which is why some parts of my first drafts were a ‘bit too Basil Exposition’- but hey, it’s a first draft – better to see Basil than a blank page).  It's harder work, but important work; when I read or hear dialogue which tells rather than shows, at best it takes me out of the story; at worst, I start rewriting in my head while the story's still progressing (bad habit, but at least I don’t say what I’m rewriting anymore- usually).

It wasn’t always this way – exposition prologues have been around for as long as people have stood in front of crowds and told stories, told to the audience before a single player has crossed the stage.  As audiences became more savvy and sophisticated, they fell out of fashion, leaving us to discover what happens at the same time as the characters, or perhaps a little ahead if the writer leaves us a trail to follow.  Which is why I’m so impressed with The Shadow Line on BBC2

Hugo Blick’s script brilliantly shows rather than tells – the story of a drug baron’s murder simultaneously investigated by the police, and the criminal fraternity around him.  The characters are complex and engaging,  and imagery is superb (the juxtapositon between Detective Jonah Gabriel’s brand new, high-spec Audi and smuggler Joseph Bede’s older, scruffier model of the same car says buckets about how both sides feel they have to portray themselves without saying a word).

So far, so great – but the thing that impressed me the most is the opening sequence where two uniformed officers discover the victim.  The story could have competently started with the news of the murder reported in a phone call to smuggler Joseph Bede, and the arrival of Detective Gabriel at the crime scene; but Blick has brilliantly fused the ancient tradition of prologue with noir filmaking, and a multi-layered storyline – and I know it’s good because I wished I’d thought of it.

Can’t wait until the next episode.  If I’ve enthused enough to make you want to see the first part, get it on BBC iPlayer while you can:

Friday, 6 May 2011

First the swim, then the climb.

I've been away from my desk for a couple of weeks thanks to holidays and the like - it's been great to step away from the laptop and let the thoughts for Book Two (the sequel to Hidden Daughter) move around without me being able to tie them down.  I've also been doing a little more background research into my Victorian adventure story, which I know is going to be a new challenge for me; it has to be told in a very different voice to the one I found for Hidden Daughter, and finding that voice has been one of the things I've been working on this week.  After a week of scribbling and headscratching, I still feel like I'm only half way across the water, with the mountain to climb afterwards.

The simple way to do it would be to leave it to one side, and carry on with Book Two - unfortunately, like the story of my reluctant Time-Traveller Penny, Junior Fireman Freddie's tale is too exciting to leave alone for long - so it's back to the coalface to dig out the story.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


I've been discussing Hidden Daughter with a relative this weekend - now the book is finished, I feel I can properly talk about it without being cagey. I'd called them because I'm looking for an image that reflects one of the recurring parts of the story - Penny embroidering her Account, an essential part of a time-travellers wardrobe.
As we chatted about how it was used, and it's importance to Penny, my relative made a reference to something she designed, and how that was important to them.

At the same time, I've seen this amazing dress made of picture books online- the common thread running between them all was memory- how we assemble memories, how we create new ones with objects we find around us.  And most importantly, how some memories (like the much-loved Golden Books that make the dress) are shared.  And how some memories, although recorded, remain unexplained.

The interesting thing about Penny's handiwork is that unlike the other items I discussed and saw this weekend, her work hides inside the lining, away from public view.  Finding out why is what happens when you begin to read the story of the Hidden Daughter.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


A lot of what I write comes from tiny fragments of experience - some of it I look out for, some of it catches my attention - and now it comes looking for me.

There's a noise in Hidden Daughter, called singing.  Novice time-traveller Greg Pope hears it as the Needle powers down after it is used to pull him back from the execution of Charles the First - it's strange, and metallic, and unnerving, like the rattle you hear from under your car as you're half way past the car you're overtaking.  The original singing noise in my head as I began to write Hidden Daughter came from a memory of hearing trees scrape against metal fencing one day; then a few months later,  I found this on the BBC news website: a different, but the same, strange anti-melodic patterns.

Then on Sunday, I'm in the park watching the local cricket team move the big panels they use to stop the balls going too far from the crease.  The wheels hadn't been oiled since goodness knows when - and the squeak all four wheels made at once...
It's a bit of an unnerving experience when these things seem to seek you out, but an exciting one; I hope readers of the Hidden Daughter feel the same way when they hear the singing as they read.


Editing a novel, to quote Miles Rockford, Mission Director of the Needle, is a bit of a headfry.

It's a bit like looking through a telescope while keeping the other eye open - you're looking at part of the picture in detail, observing what makes it brilliant, what needs to change; while the other eye sees the whole of the story, stopping you from deleting something that has to stay for the sake of events elsewhere in the story.

It works the opposite way too; every now and again I have to stop editing the passage on-screen, and scramble to update another part of the story, thousands of words away, so the tumbling, time-travelling life of single mother Penny all makes sense.
It's not easy, and it's taken me a lot of time to discipline myself to make the story work in every direction - thanks to the help of a lot of coffee and a program called yWriter, which I use to organise Hidden Daughter  into organisable blocks.  It lets me move blocks of story around quickly, helps me keep track of whose point of view each block is written from, lets me store away blocks I don't need (rather than deleting them forever) and because it breaks everything up into little bite-size blocks, my little laptop doesn't break into a sweat as I look for the next thing to edit.  It's not perfect, but I found it easier to work with than one big text file.  And it's free.

There's lots of other applications on the market, and they've all got their advocates, and I recommend you try out a few to see what works for you (and don't forget to back up EVERYTHING before you start - I don't want a lost manuscript on my conscience).  But I know what it's like to be stuck with a huge manuscript, without a clue what to do next; so if my experience is of any help to you, fantastic.

Right, time to open a new folder, and find out what happens to Penny next...

Friday, 1 April 2011

View from the Summit

I finished Hidden Daughter's line edits last week.  It's a big moment for me, and it marks a turning point in my writing - I'm not writing a novel, I've written a novel.  A good one.
It's been a long climb, and as a fresh faced, first time novellist, I didn't realise I'd have to do it twice.

One story, two ascents
The first climb (writing the first draft), was more of a scramble; lots of slips on the way, some parts that I struggled getting through to move forward, some very muddy paths that slowed me down, some wrong turns.
By the time I got to the top, and looked at the path I'd made to the summit, I could see how I managed to get there, but if I wanted to bring anyone with me, I needed to clear the path of the story.  Properly.

So the second climb began (rewrites, and line edits) - to make the story less of a scramble, and more of a journey for the reader.
Looking back down the mountain for a second time, I can see where I've cleared out the stones, marked the pathway, and drained the boggy bits.  I can see where the story twists and turns it's way towards it's conclusion, giving the reader a glimpse of the summit as they climb, helping them look forwards to the next chapter.

And because Hidden Daughter is the first of three books that follow the reluctant time-traveller Penny, I've given them a peek through the clouds to the next mountain, waiting to be climbed.

So I've finished my novel.  Now I have to get my boots back on, ready to find a new path to a new summit.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


I don't normally heckle, too much respect for anyone who has the guts to stand up and perform.  But I did heckle last night, so did a load of other people too - because if we didn't, the show couldn't go on.

'Star Destroyer' is a play written by improv veteran Lloydie at Nottingham Arts Theatre - set in an almost bankrupt planetarium, the comedy sets up it's stall with a bunch of odd characters and odder situations.
Actually, it's half a play - at the end of act one's cliffhanger, it's up to us lot, in the dark.  The audience gave a bunch of things the characters would have to improv about in the second act, and fifteen minutes later, 'our' play would carry on, with 'our' ending.

Nonlinear storytelling (which I first discovered as a kid with the magnificent Fighting Fantasy adventure books) is something that is becoming more and more feasible with the rise of programming technology; it's something I think we'll see more and more of as computer games become more complex in their narrative- and begin to influence other forms of media.  I wouldn't want every narrative I experience to end under my direction, but to watch a story you've influenced come to life in front of you was really exciting last night, and gave me lots of food for thought for how I could tell some of my stories in the future.

'Star Destroyer' is on again tonight (21st March 2011) - I broke my heckling duck last night, and helped to write a play; I wonder how it'll end tonight...

Thursday, 10 March 2011


I've been lax on running over the last couple of weeks - days when I should have done it have been given over to other stuff, or final editing for Hidden Daughter.  I've ditched four wheels for walking and cycling to get some sort of exercise to fill in the gaps, but there's a nagging feeling I'm not doing enough.

Then I arrange to meet up for a drink in town last night - I head for the bus stop, and see the bus sail past the end of the road...  The next thing I remember is saying 'hello' without a wheeze to the bus driver, then taking my seat in a debonair fashion, rather than collapsing in a heap on the floor.  Between those two points, I must have sprinted like a gazelle.  Because I run, and walk and cycle a bit more than I used to- all those little bits accumulate to help my body achieve what I wanted to do.

It's the same with writing - as I'm reaching the final chapters of line edits for Hidden Daughter, my skills in understanding what works and doesn't work, what drives story forward or builds character for a conclusion which will surprise, or delight, or horrify the reader has started to become second nature.  But it's only through continually moving myself forward as a writer that I can achieve it.

The most exciting thing though, is that the process of writing one story has opened my mind up to the possibilities of stories in different worlds, as well as the one occupied by Penny and her Catherine - I just have to find a way to type and run...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Four years ago, buying a notebook was the second best idea I ever had.

The best idea was to put things in it.  I’ve no idea how many notebooks are sold world wide each year, but I’m sure a fair number of them don’t see the light of day past the second page – I know I’ve been guilty of it in the past (the trick is buy small, so they can be stuck in a pocket or bag with a pen.)

Now I’ve got past that, I can’t stop.  Half ideas, stuff I’d seen, songs from the radio, books I should read – I put the lot in there.  I’m not sure how much of it I’ll ever use, but I know it’s all useful – the process of training yourself to take an interest in the world around you is vital as a writer – Adrian Reynolds has written about this in his blog – even if the world you’re writing about doesn’t really exist.

Which is how I got to the Html Patchwork, an Open Source Embroidery project, which pulls computer programmers, knitters and embroiderers together to make a patchwork tapestry of a web-friendly colour palette, each part coded and stitched by hand.  Suddenly, a very 21st century concept becomes rooted in something older than recorded history, and like the internet, it happens through the work of people from different places, different walks of life – their combined differences make the piece unique, with it’s own character outside of the people that made it happen.

It’s amazing how other people, a half dozen connections away, are thinking about the same things.  The meshing of new and old ideas and technologies is something that comes in Hidden Daughter – Penny is a time traveller who tries to live a normal life as a seamstress, combining old skills in the modern world to keep herself stable in an unstable life.  And the Needle, the time machine Penny’s rivals have begun to use, is a mix of 21st Century parallel processing and supercooling liquids, married to with 20th Century industrial engineering, rogue telephone exchanges and elevator music that can’t be switched off.

All I need to do now is finish line editing it, and you can see how it all fits together for yourself…

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Here be Dragons

Told you here be dragons.
There’s an apocryphal tale about a comedian who was asked:
‘Where do your ideas come from?’
He answered:
‘From my head.’

The reason that came out of my head is down to visiting Nottingham University’s Chinese New Year celebrations at the weekend to celebrate the year of the rabbit.  It’s always good to get out and see new things, and it’s filled with music, dance and imagery you don’t usually get to see every day, so it was good to take the opportunity when it came- especially when I saw the exhibition of chinese calligraphy on fans and banners – one of them featured a poem by He Zhizang:

I left home young and returned old,
accent unchanged, but my hair now thin and gray.
Little kids do not know me at all —
with a big smile they ask,“Where are you from, stranger?,”

It’s beautifully poignant, and out of the blue reminded me of the tiniest idea I’d had for a story – so very small, I’d practically fogotten it – now it’s back, front and centre, and the notion that I can draw on the experiences of someone who wrote 1600 years ago is really exciting.  All that from getting out of the house on a blustery Sunday night.

The comedian is right - ideas do come from your head, but only if you put stuff in there to begin with. 
Time for me to go find some more stuff – how about you?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Want to know the truth? Ask a stranger.

You know you’re more comfortable with your writing when you can show it to members of your family without staring intently at them; instead you master the art of staring at them through a newspaper or a book, or a solid wall so they hopefully don’t notice.
I got some encouraging feedback from a family member last week after giving them part of the current draft of Hidden Daughter – I’m confident they meant it, but I suspect they meant it with more gusto because I was sat on the other side of the room, pretending to check emails while listening to every page turn (another anti-stare tactic which doesn’t work).
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Feedback is a completely subjective issue – what one person loves, another hates (or even worse, thinks is ‘okay’) – so the challenge is to take as much of the subjectivity out of it as possible.  And part of that subjectivity is me.  Thanks to Writing East Midlands, that’s what happened the next day.

I’ve just received my critical feedback report for Hidden Daughter, which Writing East Midlands helped me sort with their Critical Reading Service – after approving my application, they forwarded my synopsis and the first fifty pages of my manuscript to a professional editor.  And because the person reviewing my work doesn’t know me from adam, I got an honest opinion of whether the manuscript and synopsis work, and what could be holding them back from being their very, very best.  Exactly what I needed. 
I’d be lying if I wasn’t nervous about sending out Hidden Daughter, but if I want to tell Penny’s story to an audience beyond the walls of my front room, I had to do it.  And be ready to use the feedback to make Hidden Daughter a stronger story.  And that’s what I’ve been up to today.
The feedback’s been good, impartial and constructive; it’s been the shot in the arm I needed to keep me writing forwards through the grey winter days (am I the only person getting tired of wearing jumpers?) – and most importantly, it’s meant I can make a start on line editing Hidden Daughter, ready to meet a bigger world than the sandpit of my laptop.
As for Coalface?  Still making good progress - I’ll talk about the excel spreadsheets I’ve had to build for it another time…

Friday, 28 January 2011


Sorted.  Done.  Ticked off the list.  I’ve finally seen ‘The King’s Speech’.

As the ecstatic tweets, blogposts and reports of packed movie houses tumbled into my machine as I tried to get on with my rewriting, it started to become less of a film I’d like to see, and more a film it was my duty to see.  Perhaps it’s the subject matter and setting – royalty, and the imminent arrival of World War Two; potent subject matters, which still resonate now, whether we have a direct connection them or not.

I think at it’s heart though, the notion of duty within the story is what touches people the most – and the consequences of following your duty to your country, or your family, or simply to yourself.  We all have duties of one sort or another, and watching the weight of those duties fall heavily on the shoulders of characters we normally see as icons of restrained calm is fascinating stuff.  It’s a great film, and my hat goes off to everyone involved in it – there’s a great QUADcast interview with Gareth Unwin, producer of The King’s Speech here.

That idea of duty is something I can see reflected in Hidden Daughter, my first novel, as it begins to tell the story of Penny, driven by an overpowering duty to travel through time – and steal, so her daughter can live a normal life.  And how it’s my duty to tell Penny’s story.  Which is why I need to finish my edits, and get going on Book Two…

Friday, 7 January 2011

Happy. New Year.

Wake up and check weather outside - clear.
Get dressed and step out of door - snow.
Change running shoes for boots (thank you Santa) and try again.

I'd planned to get back out and run to burn some off the calories I'd taken in over Christmas and New Year, and then the roads were covered in yet more snow, then the demon slush- I'd considered chancing it, but the potential image of me watching the winter sun dry the roads while I tried to find a ruler to scratch my broken leg put me off.  Ice skating down the aisle of the bus as it came to a halt confirmed it.

It's been the same with the new novel, Coalface - I'd planned to get something like a first draft sorted through Nanowrimo, but circumstance slowed me down.  I ended up with about 20,000 words, which I'm pretty happy with from a standing start - my hat goes off to anyone who hit the 50,000 target.

So between the buffets and the Christmas specials, I've been jotting notes and sketching ideas, ready for the new year; and I've learned two things through the process:-The new novel is not as simple as I thought (I've spent this week building a timeline for the story, and some starting rules for the alternative Victorian world they live in).
-If you keep going on something, there's a point you reach where it gains an internal momentum- so even when you're not actively engaged in it, some part of you still is.

So if you've stumbled on your new year's resolutions, keep at it - even if it's in fits and starts- if you do, you'll reach a point where you know you want to keep going- which is why I've just checked the weather on the news, and why I'll be out on the de-slushed pavements tomorrow morning.