the writer is a lonely hunter


Woven shawls in novels by Elizabeth Gaskell

Shawls designed in a pattern commonly known in Britain as paisley were by the 1850s an indispensable item of Victorian women’s wear. They were a marker of respectability as shown by the character of Esther in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, who dispenses with her prostitute’s attire to find a shawl at a pawnbrokers which is considered suitable attire. Poor women wore paisley shawls made from wool or cotton while hand woven shawls from Kashmir made from ‘several grades of hair from two or more species of Asian goat’ (Suzanne Daly, 246) were the preference of the prosperous middle classes.


In another novel by Elizabeth Gaskell North and South, shawls and scarves from India are inherited or handed down. Mrs Shaw gives her collection to her daughter Edith but due to her slight stature, Edith prefers to use them as picnic blankets. It is on Margaret that a shawl suits “as an empress wears her drapery”. Preference for handcrafted goods leaves Margaret at odds with Mr Thornton but by the end of the novel Margaret inherits land and marries him.


As paisley shawls are included in great classic work, why not include paisley print in contemporary fiction? Read my story ‘Paisley Shirt’ included in the collection of the same name to find out about its influence in my writing. Click here for more information on Amazon or if delivery times are off putting, try the Book Depository.


National Trust: Lacock Abbey

David has held life membership of the National Trust since a maiden aunt left him £100 when he was eleven. Here is his membership card complete with boyhood signature.


The membership allows an accompanying guest to enter free of charge, so we tend to gravitate towards National Trust properties when out and about. Recently we visited Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. Both the Abbey and properties in the town are administered by the National Trust and this makes for an interesting visit. The Abbey is situated within extensive grounds where you can see the approach of spring.


The building benefits from a variety of architectural styles owing to its history. First as an Augustinian abbey, then the home to a Tudor rogue, and finally as a family home and the birthplace of photography. In more recent times it has acted as a film location to a variety of productions including Harry Potter.


Cloister that appears in Harry Potter

I usually come away from these visit with ideas for creative writing. Word prompts include stone feathers and stone blindfolds. Watch this space for creative outputs!


Writers’ Day at Salisbury Literary Festival, 29 October 2017

I had a splendid time at the Writers’ Day in Salisbury. The programme was packed and started with a warm-up session using improvisation as a tool for writing by Alison Jean Lester. The ‘yes, and…’ task was a great way to generate and overcome problems in story telling by working in partnership to produce alternating lines of a story.

Further workshops followed including an excellent session delivered by Rupert Wallis which provided a rule of thumb for generating a 25-word summary. Rupert suggested starting the summary with the  word ‘when’ and introducing the problem to be overcome with the word ‘must’. For my novel The String Games, a summary might be: when Nim’s brother is abducted and murdered as a child, she must overcome unresolved grief as an adult to integrate the loss.

Susanna Dunn offered a workshop on ‘finding your voice’ which suggested that close attention to detail brings authenticity to writing. She advises writers to ‘listen with the ear of your heart’. Helen Corner-Bryant followed with suggestions for ‘unleashing your inner editor’ where she described ways to approach ‘instinctive’ and ‘structural’ editing.

After lunch there were two panels: one with a focus on publishing and the next with advice from agents. The last session was offered by Mark Dawson which gave remarkable insights into the world of a hybrid author (one that has been traditionally published and self-published). Interestingly, he felt it was vanity to seek a traditional route to publishing when the options for self-publishing can be more lucrative and offer better engagement with readers.


Mark Dawson (right) in conversation about the secrets of self-publishing

Food for thought.


Writers’ Day in Bournemouth

Join me at a Writers’ Day where you’ll be able to network with other writers, find out more about writing in different genres and become part of a new Dorset Writers’ Network project to be launched in 2017.

Venue: Bournemouth Library, 22 The Triangle, Bournemouth, BH2 5RQ

Time:  10am – 4pm

Date:   Saturday 22 October 2016

I have enjoyed working alongside all the workshop leaders and can thoroughly recommend their input.

Finding your character’s voice in Young Adult fiction

Chantelle Atkins is a prolific writer of YA fiction who has extensive knowledge of the genre. If you’re interested in finding out how to develop the voice of teenage characters, this is the workshop for you.

Researching your historical fiction

For an erudite workshop, you can’t do better than this. The team combination of Frances Colville and Tom Colville brings together the best approaches in research and provides ideas for how to apply this knowledge in developing your writing.

The art of self publishing

If you’re looking for sound advice from someone with substantial experience in helping writers reach their audience through self publishing, look no further than joining this workshop delivered by Helen Baggott. Have all your questions about the journey to become an indie author answered.

Child characters in fiction

Extend your repertoire of techniques in writing about children in adult fiction. Child narrators, child protagonists and child characters, when framed creatively, can add new dimensions to your writing. Join this workshop delivered by me and learn about the strategies published authors use to achieve authentic child characters.


Also available are one-to-one surgeries for feedback and advice on improving your writing.

I hope to see some of you in October.


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Aethiopian Maid

Please find below the story I mentioned an earlier post. It is written in response to Tiff Oben’s artwork which forms part of the Engaging in the Past exhibition at Oriel y Bont. Aethiopian Maid acknowledges the black presence in Tudor England.

Aethiopian Maid

The green silk gown hangs on a wooden pole. The girl has fingers thin as cinnamon quills and like in colour. She runs them over the embroidered hem. Clusters of pansies in gold and silver thread have faces marked with pearls. This is a gown of much importance. Clara checks the fabric, a task she undertakes every spring when moths are wont to cause damage. A smell of herbs and lavender pervades. Dried flower heads fall from the folds. She checks the seams and gathers for holes but none are found. Her mistress prizes this gown more than any other and work is needed to keep it fresh. Clara takes the gown  and carries it outside where she hangs it in the breeze of the warm spring day.

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Representing the Tudors, an interdisciplinary conference




Join this weekend conference at the University of South Wales (Treforest Campus, Pontypridd) to find out more about how the Tudors are represented in popular culture. Images of the famous monarchs, Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1, abound  and have a particular resonance in the arts, literature, the media. At the conference, historical novelists Vanora Bennett, Suzannah Dunn and Elizabeth Fremantle will talk about their work and read from their books. Panel sessions include:

  • television and the Tudors
  • writing fiction
  • constructing an image
  • shaping the past in the present

Click here, for further information. The price for attending the full conference (including 2 nights accommodation and food) is £120. Postgraduates/unwaged pay £60. If you can’t attend the whole event, there are various options.

I look forward to seeing you there!



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