Monday, 26 November 2012

Starting, Growing and Mo'ing

I really enjoyed Word of Mouth: Journeys last week - as did a lot of other people who were kind enough to listen to my story 'Four Minute Warning'.  I was still editing the story as our excellent host Megan Taylor was calling me up to read - just a few words taken out or changed can make a world of difference to something you're reading aloud.  I felt a little bit like a preacher when I stood up on the lectern, then my story's character pushed down on his Raleigh Tomahawk's pedals.  The lectern became chopper-style handlebars and we were away on our race against time.  If you couldn't make it, Oliver Clarke's written a great review of the evening here.

It's a mo' for sho' - if you like, donate!
I got a lot of interest in my facial hair, too - I'm growing a mo' for Movember, and I've finally got my page up and running after my marathon edits.  It's raising awareness (and a little bit of money) for Men's health issues, particularly prostrate and testicular cancer) - it's been fun to see how I would look with a Victorian-esque mo', but it's not sticking around - although it is good to stroke when I'm thinking up new plotlines...

Now the YA novel's current draft is complete, it's time to start on something new.  I wrote three hundred words on one of the stories during a fit of editor's block about a month ago - rather than looking to the past, it's set in the here and now, in a city where green comes through the cracks in the pavement, and our unlikely hero makes a discovery, and a decision that changes his life forever...

Here's to growing things (and shaving some things off) in December.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Journeys and The Next Big Thing

Busy doing final copy checks and A5 printouts of 'Four Minute Warning'; the short story I'm reading tonight as part of Word of Mouth: Journeys.  

It's been a while since I looked at the story because I've been working through the newest edit of my YA novel.  It's been a brilliant and all-consuming journey of discovery as I follow Cole on his journey of revenge for the death of his father.

And it's not what Cole, or I, expected when I first wrote about the accident all those months ago.  If you want to know what it is, watch this space.  

In the meantime, the scriptwriting powerhouse that is Adrian Reynolds very kindly included me in his 'Next Big Thing' blogpost a couple of weeks ago - now I've completed rewrites and edits on my YA story, it's the perfect time for me to answer the same questions he did, and pass the blog baton on to another great writer.

So if we're all ready, here we go...

What is the working title of your book?
It started life as Coalface, but now I’ve finished rewrites and editing, a new title has come up...

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Lots of different places – I’m a bit of a magpie, constantly jotting stuff down wherever I go.  I’m usually looking at stuff like door handles in a stately home while everyone else is looking at the pictures on the wall.

What genre does your book fall under?
It’s YA fiction, in a historical setting, with a whoosh of the fantastic.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’d be more interested to see who my readers would pick.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A boy seeks revenge for the death of his father after a train accident, because he secretly saw what happened, and knows it was sabotage…

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m working with someone at the moment, and I’m looking forward to seeing where that takes us.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About eight months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Chris Wooding’s ‘The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray’ – it’s a completely different story world, but mixes up the past and his own take on urban fantasy really well.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
The characters inside the book. And the world they live in.  Because their story needs to be told.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s Victorian England, but faster.  A lot faster.

Right, that's enough about me, here's someone else with a story to tell about the story they're telling:

Ian writes for both children and adults. His first non-fiction book, A Children’s History of Nottinghamshire, was launched at Waterstones and sold over 1500 copies in the first month. The book proved popular with local schools and libraries and Ian now visits schools with his History Roadshow, a lively mix of pictures, quizzes, storytelling, and classroom activities. 
Ian recently won second place in the Meridian writing competition and his work is currently to be seen at the Museum of Childhood. Click here to read more about Ian’s journey through the centuries and here for an interview with the Nottingham Evening Post.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Morning After Mayhem

Nottingham, Festival of Words team prepare to launch
@wordsnovel as part of Word of Mouth at Mayhem

What a great night!
I met a load of really interesting people at Mayhem last night - a great combination of Mayhem fans (including a chap whose horror make up was eye-wateringly good) and Broadway cinemagoers who had just come out of seeing Skyfall (all very impressed with Mr Bond).

The lineup was great - classic takes on old stories, archive chillers from the seventies and early eighties projected on the wall, and me.

It's my second time I've had work showcased in Word of Mouth at Mayhem, but my first where I did the reading.  I wrote The Good Books specifically for Mayhem - taking all my memories of watching Hammer House of Horror behind a cushion on a Friday night, and rolls them up into a tale that creeps up on you like an odd smell...
Two (A5) pages in to The Good Books at
Mayhem (pic: Robin Vaughan-Williams)
It's a nerve racking thing, standing up in front of an audience and reading your work, but when you don't have Tom Baker's telephone number, you've got to do it.  It's part of being a writer, talking through your work, and getting immediate feedback from people during and after the performance.  It was lovely to chat about how I wrote the story, what parts people enjoyed, and watch other writers perform their work.

If you're thinking about doing it yourself, there's loads of advice on the interweb telling you how to do it, but here's my one tip-top tip:

A5 printouts.  No, really.

When you've finished writing, change the document page size to A5 on your word processor, and print it two pages at a time on your A4 printer.  Cut in half, staple into paperpack-sized notes, and never worry about your story wilting over half way through - you've got enough to concentrate on when you're presenting a chunk of your soul.

Hope that makes sense:  if it doesn't, I'll show you what I mean when I perform at the next Word of Mouth in November - more details later...

If you're still in need of a chill, Mayhem runs until the 4th November - for more info, take a look here.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Word of Mouth, Mayhem, and Me

So I've been quiet because I'm working on the next (final?) draft of my YA Victorian Adventure novel - a lot of thinking, a lot of writing, a lot of excitement.  It seems like certain things have popped up at just the right time to help me write it, which I'm really grateful for.  I'm not sure how they'll all fit in just yet, but there's only one way to find out, and that's to get to the finish.
Mayhem Logo

Meanwhile... after the fun we had presenting Sent/Received last year at Nottingham Writers Studio's Word of Mouth night at Mayhem, I'm coming back for a second bite on the 31st October at Broadway Nottingham.

Horror Writing Essentials #23: Spooky Pretzels

Broadway is a great venue for writers of all kinds, and this time there'll be no hiding behind great acting talent - I'll be reading my own short story alongside Niki Valentine, Megan Taylor and a coven of other eerie storytellers.  If you're not stuffing yourself with sweets and hiding behind the curtains on Halloween, come down and I'll tell you all about The Good Books...

Thursday, 26 July 2012


Some days, you've got to get outside... Six quid, well spent at the University of Nottingham.  Hope you're enjoying the sunshine - don't forget the sunscreen.

`This has been a wonderful day!' said he, as the Rat shoved off and took to the sculls again. `Do you know, I`ve never been in a boat before in all my life.'
`What?' cried the Rat, open-mouthed: `Never been in a--you never--well I--what have you been doing, then?'
`Is it so nice as all that?' asked the Mole shyly, though he was quite prepared to believe it as he leant back in his seat and surveyed the cushions, the oars, the rowlocks, and all the fascinating fittings, and felt the boat sway lightly under him.
`Nice? It's the ONLY thing,' said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. `Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING--absolute nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,' he went on dreamily: `messing--about--in--boats; messing----'

extract from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Monday, 9 July 2012


Another trip which came at just the right time.
I've just finished a major edit on my YA novel Coalface - a big challenge, but one that's made the story stronger and shorter at the same time.  So it's time to look at new stories - and old ones...

I found this recreation of a bedsit in Southwell Workhouse.  In the seventies, it became a refuge for people waiting for a council house.  

The kitchenette they've set up got me thinking about the scruffy flat above the costumiers where Hidden Daughter's anti-heroine Penny repairs clothes, tries to do right by her Catherine with soup and fish fingers, and occasionally time-travels.

If you think this is scruffy for the seventies (it was, deliberately so), there's no surprises for guessing what turbulent teenager Cate thinks of coming home to something like this in 1987...

Lots of thoughts, lots of ideas... and a new challenge.  Time to get stuck in again.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Editing and Tailoring

Edits of Coalface continue this week - the great thing of rewrites is I take a fresh look at elements of the story I thought were great, and get the chance to make them even better.
The downside is, when you've resolved one plot point, another three unresolved plot points pop up...

It's tricky work, then something lands in your laptop that keeps you going.

I'm a scribbler when it comes to illustrating the alternative Victorian England of Coalface - drawings with a lot of passion, but not much accuracy.

Stirling Single at NRM pic: wikipedia
I'm always on the lookout for things that reflect what I'm trying to bring to the page, and I have to give a big thankyou to for posting some fantastic David Sims pics of Prada's forthcoming range of menswear.  The choice of actors to model the outfits is inspired, turning the shoot into something that crackles with potential for me as a writer.

If you want an idea of what Coalface looks like in my head as I'm writing and editing it, (and what I'm saving up to add to my wardrobe as of today) - this is a good place to start - just add one of these in the background...

Monday, 18 June 2012

Out and About - Lanhydrock

Inspiration comes in all sorts of places – one of the strangest things is when it comes back to meet you when you visit somewhere again…

Lanhydrock has been a National Trust house since the 1970s – it’s interesting because the exterior of the building is thoroughly Elizabethan, but a 19th c. fire gutted one half of the building.  The result is a Victorian version of Grand Designs, with the cutting edge of gadgets and ‘in’ designs of 1883 rubbing shoulders with the ancient plasterwork in the long gallery.

It’s my second visit to one of the places that fuelled my imagination as I began to create the alternate Victorian England of Coalface, and has inspired some of the places Cole encounters in his quest to avenge his father’s death.  The whole house exudes a unique character, so much so that it influenced one of my favourite lines in the story.  I’m working through re-edits of Coalface at the moment; fingers crossed the sentence makes the next edit – you never know until you finish.
I took these snaps at Lanhydrock while my tent was being tested to destruction on the Cornish coastline – I lost the tent, but got the pictures –enjoy.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Five runs?

I'm making up for lost time after three weeks of self imposed sitting down to edit Coalface - so I'm on my fifth run in as many days.

Five runs?  Yeah, five runs.

Okay, five short runs.

Day one was as much staggering as running.
Day two was all running, but I was good for nothing at the end.
Day three was... pretty good.
Day four better...
Day five, and I'm back up to speed.

After thinking I'd lost my running mojo, there it was - I just had to work for it.

I'm feeling the same thing about starting the follow up stories to Coalface and Hidden Daughter.  
Getting into the rhythm of being open to every possible new idea in an emerging story is a different discipline to making everything flow inside a finished one.

Then I find an old photo, or a quote, or work out the age of someone in 1882... and I'm off again.

Whatever you're working on, if you get the feeling you're stuck at day one or two, stick with it - day three is just around the corner.

Friday, 11 May 2012


Another milestone week - I've completed edits for Coalface, my YA Victorian adventure novel, after three weeks of intensive rewrites (there's always rewrites) and editing, while the rain fell and the sun shone outside, turning the back garden into a small jungle.  But now, we're done.  Spellchecked, backed up, saved.  Properly done.

It's a strange time.  I've spent a long time walking with the fantastic characters in the book, putting their hopes, fears, actions and reactions down on paper; but at some point, that has to stop.  I expected to feel a little anxiety about stepping out of my hero's amazing Victorian world, but the truth is, we've only just started.

Two glasses of very pleasant red wine and a page of scribbles later, the second book is underway.  New horizons to explore, new people to meet, new challenges to be faced.

Meanwhile, the grass outside is knee deep, and needs a cut; so I'd better get it sorted.  Well soon, anyway.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Edits and Twists

It's been a long week of editing Coalface, my YA Victorian adventure; but at the end of it, I'm left with a lovely unexpected twist - that isn't in Coalface...

I've just been told by the BBC my short story is on the longlist for the Radio Four Opening Lines series - brilliant news!  I'm really pleased to get such positive feedback on my work, and it's come at the perfect time.

This morning, I passed the halfway mark on editing Coalface.  It's been a bit of an uphill climb to this point - as some of the edits have become rewrites, which have then become edits.  While part of me daydreams of hitting the save button for the last time, it's all part of the process, the nuts and bolts of making a story fly across the page.

I remember going through the same process (on a smaller scale) with my Opening Lines short story- after my good news this morning, it was worth the extra effort to turn a good story into a great one.

Right - time to celebrate - posh sandwich from the shop down the road, then back to the desk; the other half of  my action-packed adventure waits...

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


So, a busy weekend - Nottingham looked splendidly Victorian (sort of) from the fourth floor of Waterstones on Friday evening, where Gail Carriger discussed her Parasol Protectorate series while I drank Pimms and lemonade.  I held back on cake, but it was kind of them to offer.  There was a huge number of Steampunk fans in the audience, dressed to the nines.  It's interesting to see how ideas of an alternate Victorian reality have such an impact on fans of the genre.
Gail's writing is great fun to read; a mix of Austen-like attention to social manners and protocol, with a big slice of werewolf and vampire lore thrown in for good measure - all rolled up into a strangely believable world.  Timeless is the last book of the series, but she's busy working on another part of her very inventive universe for YA readers.

Then came Alt.Fiction, packed with discussions, panels, and my reading slot!  I was very nervous (my thanks to whoever gave me the tip of putting my notes in a folder - it reduced the shaking to tremor levels), but I was really pleased with my read of the opening chapter of Hidden Daughter.  I got some lovely feed back from another writer about my presentation, and as a result, I've made some new friends.  Once again, it was really worthwhile to get out there and talk to other writers.  And I'm itching to read more of my work in public now.

In the meantime, I'm back to editing Coalface.  I'm about a third of the way through, and it's shaping up nicely - so much so, I might even start sharing a little more of it soon - watch this space.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Practice, practice, practice.

Talking about time-travel with a stopwatch in your kitchen is something even I don't do that often, but that's what I was doing tonight.

One of my resolutions this year was to share my work with an audience as often as I could (reading aloud on the bus doesn't count as an audience).

Alt.Fiction have very kindly given me an open mic slot at their Flash Fic session at 1pm this Saturday - I'll be reading an extract from chapter one of 'Hidden Daughter'.  After some great advice on reading extracts from my colleagues at Nottingham Writer's Studio, I've edited, read, re-read, drunk coffee and re-read again.  

Now I'm ready (I think).

I'm going to pick up some more tips when I see Gail Carriger discuss her new novel 'Timeless' and other things Parasol Protectorate related (good name, very jealous of that name) at Waterstones Nottingham on Friday night.

Then I'm looking forward to hearing what other writers will be reading to us on Saturday, and sharing the start of weary time traveller Penny's story with an audience.

Monday, 9 April 2012


Calke Abbey: inspiration lies around every corner.

The weather is forbidding today, to say the least: not hazardous, but as uninviting as non-dangerous weather gets.  

So I've elected to do a bit of time-travelling in the footsteps of Hidden Daughter's Penny, I'm now in last Friday, in Calke Abbey:

The anatomy of a country house revealed
Calke Abbey is an extraordinary place - a once well appointed country home which fell into slow, graceful decline in the 1920s, leaving entire sections of the house untouched for years.  

Stored in the rafters,
ready for the next season of boating
that never came to pass.
The National Trust arrested it's decline after they began to manage it in the nineteen eighties, but have chosen not to 'restore it' in the way they have with many other properties.

What you get is a sense of the parlour state many forgotten country houses were left in, before they fell under the wrecking ball after WWII.

The result is a place unlike anywhere else I've seen.  
If you want to start a story, you'll find a thousand places and a thousand ways to begin at Calke.  

With it's fractured past, and secret world within our world, Hidden Daughter is one of those stories.  

I feel very fortunate to be inspired by this strangely beautiful place.

Friday, 30 March 2012


"Some days you have to get outside..."

I've been stuck in front of the typ-o-matic machine  for what feels like ages; so I escaped out on the last good (forecasted) day of March and visited Clumber Park.

Although the manor house is long gone, the rest of the property remains, including the walled garden and glasshouse.  This part of our recent history is fascinating to me; how Victorians built on medieval traditions of enclosed growing spaces, and used them to sustain new plants brought from the most exotic reaches of the empire. 

They're growing rhubarb for the Rhubarb Festival at the moment- looking forward to getting a bunch of Red Champagne, or some of this:

It's exciting to see the cast iron mechanical technology still in working use after over 100 years; the levers, rods and moving panels echo the progressive positivity of science and engineering at that time.  I resisted the urge to try them out (I'd like them to last another 100 years, please).

I'm sure it's one of the aspects of the Victorian era that influences Steampunk writers; and it's been the inspiration I needed to forge ahead with the final edit of Coalface, my YA Victorian adventure.

If my box brownie snaps have inspired to you visit, details are all here - have a good weekend.

Thursday, 22 March 2012


Danger/Action: essential office-based poe
Been a bit of a rollercoaster week, all told;  States of Independence on Saturday was excellent; some great sessions (including the chance to see Adrian Reynolds' play 'Breaking In').  And I finally got my copy of Robin Vaughan William's poetry pamphlet 'The Manager' after seeing him perform it at the Jam Cafe last year.

Then another night of new work at Antenna Nottingham last night; Word of Mouth's film night was an intense mix of films, and film related poetry; if I'd known I was going to a premier of Graham Lester George's film I'd have dug out my tux...

And a lot of positive feedback about Coalface, my YA victorian adventure, which is keeping me motivated as I continue with the edits.  A big thank you to everyone who listened to me chatter about it this week - I promise I'll get on now.

Oh yes, and I made avocado and prawn risotto; which tasted nicer than it looks on the pic - recommended.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Unstuck with glue.

I reached another milestone with Coalface last week - I completed the rewrite of the story.  I did what every writer should do at that moment- enjoyed a nice cuppa (sun wasn't quite over the yard-arm), then went back to the start and began look at it again.

That's when I discovered something wasn't right.

It's no big surprise - Coalface is a work in progress; as I learned new things about my young hero in the rewrite (his name is different for a start) I knew there were things that would change again, to make the story work harder, to draw the reader in.  To make them read 'just one more chapter'.

Trouble was, I was too close to see what was wrong.

Cut and paste: Old Skool style.
Computers are amazing- the ability to create and store and organise page after page of information in something that's smaller and lighter than a ream of paper is a marvel - but it's hard to see all of the story at once.

I needed to looked at it a different way.  Change the perspective. I took the story off the screen. 

Using yWriter, I printed the scene list of Coalface (yWriter lets you write in moveable chunks,called 'scenes'), then cut up the bits and spread them across the kitchen table for two days. 
When you have to stick something in place, unsticking it is a lot tougher than hitting Ctrl-Z.  Making it physical stopped me thinking about typing, and focused my thoughts on editing.  Exactly what I needed to do.

After a lot of shuffling and paper glue, I now have a seven foot tall story, that works, stuck on the tallest cupboard door I could find.  I've moved all the elements back inside yWriter with purpose, not apprehension; and now it's time to make Coalface work harder.

If you're in the same position, give it a go - I hope it works for you as well as it worked for me; if you've got a system that's even better, let me know - Book 2 is waiting in the wings after Coalface...

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Deep. Crisp. Even.

The smell of cold, clean air.

The phlumph noise snow makes when you shovel it off the path.

The cars left with fluffy white mohicans once snowballing arms have reloaded.

The whoops and hollers of unalloyed joy carried across rooftops from other streets.

The trails in the snow - crossing over one another, showing tracks we share across time.

The cold drips that fall high from trees, hitting the back of your neck and reminding you how alive the day is.

Hope you enjoyed them too.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


 A bit late in the day perhaps - who said you could only make them at New Years?

A lot of the resolutions I made were to do more of what I do now - more writing (natch), more running (DIY does not match up, however many cupboards you demolish and doors you hang) more risotto (with barley - will report fully when I've perfected it).

The newer, more frightening resolutions are:
 - read my work to a public audience as often as possible
- sign up for and complete a 10k run
- complete a full working draft for the sequel to Hidden Daughter before New Years Eve
- finish reading all the books I mentioned when I talked about reading last year

With the snow outside, running's gone for a burton, but I'm busy working through the books (really enjoying Paula Rawsthorne's Truth About Celia Frost) and I've signed up to the open mic slot at Alt Fiction this year - will keep you posted on the others as I go along.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Christmas and DIY have done for the blog over the last couple of weeks; I've been doing jobs that needed to be done when I was completing Hidden Daughter last year.  It's taken most of writing another novel, Coalface, to get to them.  But when the water starts dripping where water really shouldn't be dripping, it's time to close the laptop.  Or at least, put it on hibernate.

All the scraping and painting's been useful - I've had chance to step away from the plot of Coalface, and let the thoughts of the YA writers group at Nottingham Writers Studio sink in.  As a result, a chance throwaway comment overheard on the radio one Saturday afternoon has taken the middle of the story along a different path - can't wait to share it.

But first, that second coat is calling - and I'm not talking about the weather.