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.