The writer is a lonely hunter


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.


Happenings in Dorchester


I was invited to the launch of the Dorchester Literary Festival last week to represent the Dorset Writers’ Network. Held at Duke’s Fine Art Salesrooms there was a mingling of sponsors and supporters plus writers including Kate Adie. It was a splendid event and included the launch of a new competition. The DFL Local Writing Prize invites self-published authors in the South West (and those who have been published by an independent publisher in the South West) to submit copies of their full-length fiction or non-fiction books for this prize. This is a wonderful opportunity for a local writer to gain national recognition and a chance to win £1000. Find more details here.

While I was happy chatting with fellow DFL volunteers, my friend decided we should make an effort to talk to others. We introduced ourselves group who turned out to work for WessexFM and Breakfast in Dorchester. This was the most successful piece of networking I’ve ever done! The next day I was contacted by Breakfast in Dorchester and invited to talk about National Poetry Day. You can hear the recording of me (I speak at 1:57:39, Sarah Barr at 42:41 and Myriam San Marco, Bournemouth Poet Laureate at 1:19:30) by clicking here. (The recording is available until 27 October 2017.)

As part of the interview, I was able to promote the Dorset Writers’ Network Open House at Dorchester Library on 7 October from 10am-1pm. This is a free event for anyone who is interested in writing. Whether you’re new to writing or want to make a start, we can offer advice and encouragement. If you’re a published writer wishing to meet others, the Dorset Writers’ Network is here to support you. I hope to see some of you on Saturday!







A guest on 90.1 Hope FM


Kimari Raven on Livewire LIVE

I was fortunate to be invited onto Hope Radio’s Livewire programme to talk about my participation in the Reading on Screen workshops which resulted in the production of my digital story titled Journey. Kimari Raven hosts the weekly show  which showcases creative talent in the Bournemouth area. The live show is aired each week on Wednesdays from 7-9pm. It was a great experienced to be interviewed by Kimari who creates a relaxed environment in which to talk. I was pleased to be on the show with another guest, the hugely talented singer and songwriter Tim Somerfield. It was great to learn about Kimari and Tim’s experiences of writing lyrics and to begin to see similarities in the process with writing prose and poetry.  I felt very privileged to be sitting beside Tim as he performed his songs live on radio.


Tim Somerfield

This was my second interview on radio following an earlier recording on UK Talk Radio with Jonathan Hines. You can read about that experience here. It is fascinating to be in a recording studio and a pleasure to share my love of writing.

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Interview on UK Talk Radio


I was invited by Jonathan Hines to join him for an interview on UK Talk Radio to share  my experiences as a writer. The office and recording studio are located in Poole and following a drive through the rain, I arrived. Jonathan is very personable and soon put me at ease. I chatted with him before the recording began and then he started on the questions. It was a lot of fun – and a great opportunity to talk about my writing.

The interview is scheduled to be aired again on Sunday 11 June 2017. If you’d like to listen, click here and tune in around noon.

Jonathan is looking to work with more authors so if you would like to take part in this series of interviews, please email to express your interest.


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Retreats for You with Debbie Flint

I met Debbie Flint in 2011 when we both attended a retreat at Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre.  (I returned there last year – you can read about my second visit here.) Debbie works as a presenter on QVC shopping channel, has a number of books published, and she’s recently taken over a writing retreat in Devon. It was great to touch base with Debbie again and draw upon her experience as a TV presenter to produce a couple of YouTube clips where I talk about my writing journey. Debbie’s help was invaluable in introducing me to interview techniques, accessing handy tips and supporting me through the process. I’d never done anything like this before so her coaching allowed me to feel confident throughout filming and I’m delighted with the results. You can watch the interviews here.


Debbie has made Retreats for You into a homely and relaxing place to write and reflect. My window overlooks the square with views onto the fields beyond. There’s no excuse for not getting on with your work as a delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner is provided. It’s  also good to be in the company of other writers and tap into the positive energy this creates. A few days away makes all the difference to my word count, I find!

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Introducing Carol McGrath and The Handfasted Wife

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Please find below an interview with the talented debut novelist Carol McGrath, author of The Handfasted Wife. The story, although based on research, is an imagined account of the life of Edith (Elditha) Swan-Neck. She is cast aside when Harold becomes King in 1066 but is the only person who can identify his body following the Battle of Hastings. Living amongst invaders, Elditha finds a way to protect her children and seeks a new future. The novel is a wonderfully evocative read, rich and textured, showing a woman’s resilience at a time of much uncertainty.

Welcome to the writer is a lonely hunter, Carol.

Thank you, Gail, for inviting me as a guest on your blog. It is an honour to appear here and to discuss my writing. 

How was your interest in writing awakened?

As a teenager I wrote stories and read voraciously. I was particularly interested in historical fiction and loved Anya Seton’s novels especially Katherine. These were the kind of stories I wanted to write. However, teaching history and having a family delayed my debut novel by years.

Tell us about your studies and how this supported your work

I began with Oxford Continuing Education. I studied for the two-year Diploma in Creative Writing which was delivered by well published tutors for poetry, prose and drama. My final submission on this course was a play about Edith Swan-Neck, Countess Gytha and two monks who came with Edith Swan-Neck to the battlefield at Hastings to recover King Harold’s body. Elditha’s story has haunted me for years. After this successful experience I progressed onto the MA in Creative Writing at Queens University Belfast’s Seamus Heaney Centre. There, I wrote a collection of short stories and a novel set in the Edwardian period. As a result, I was invited onto The Royal Holloway PhD in Creative Writing by Andrew Motion who was the external examiner on my MA. I have graduated at MPhil level. It is, otherwise, a long, long process. My studies enhanced my organisation, enabling me to write with variety and in varying mediums. In fact, I found my voice. However, a good university MA in Creative Writing is more about writing than about publishing your work. I think my MPhil took me further because I researched and wrote an academic thesis about Realism and Romance in Historical Fiction as well as writing a novel. I understand the genre better as a result. However, I would point out that my debut publication resulted from putting my work through a commercial critique with Cornerstones and the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, as well as the university studies.

I love the way you’re able to draw upon the senses in your writing, creating a story with atmosphere and intimacy. What were the challenges in writing The Hand Fasted Wife?

Finding Elditha’s voice was tricky. She lived in a past so distant that there wasn’t much recorded about her. I took what I could glean from research about noble women during this period and then I stood in her shoes. First I wrote into the story using first person. After I felt closer to her, I rewrote the initial chapters in third person narrative. This way I could include the perspectives of Countess Gytha (Harold’s mother) and that of Harold’s sister, Dowager Queen Edith. However, every time Elditha was in a scene, I always reverted to her point of view. That way I remained closer to her, seeing events through her eyes and with her feelings. This enabled me to create the sense of intimacy which is important because it is predominantly her story, and I was sorry to leave her when the book ended. I loved writing this book.

What is your next writing project?

The next book follows the fortunes of Edith Swan-Neck’s daughter, Gunnhild, her elopement from Wilton Abbey and her love for two half-brothers, both important Bretons who came over to England with William of Normandy. The story of Gunnhild and Count Alan of Richmond was recorded in contemporary chronicles. Now that I am fictionalising it, I find it a wonderfully adventurous and romantic story to write.

Which authors do you admire and why?

I read widely and not only Historical Fiction. I enjoy Vanora Bennett because she brings such depth to her historical characterisation and because she writes with delicious descriptive detail. My favourite is The Queen of Silks set during the fifteenth century and about a female London silk merchant. I feel similarly about Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies. She is unique as a Historical writer. Her scenes and her dialogue are wonderful. The opening situation in Wolf Hall is unsurpassable in Historical Fiction for its grittiness and the resilience that surfaces in Thomas Cromwell’s personality later and that initially appears in Cromwell as a youth. Importantly, her extensive research is concealed well in her evocation of the period, her character development and in her fabulous depiction of the claustrophobic nature of Tudor court life. Finally, I do enjoy reading the Irish writer Sebastian Barry. His prose is achingly beautiful and On Canaan’s Side is currently one of my top favourite novels. 

Can you offer some tips for yet to be published writers?

The first tip is obvious; write the book you would want to read and write from the heart. Secondly, consider view point carefully early on; make the story ‘character led’ so that a reader cares about what happens to her/him/ them. Third, hone your writing and do not be afraid to redraft. Get the story down in a first draft to achieve flow then work it up or review it all carefully as you write. I do both. Significantly, know where your story will end so that you are clear about where you are heading. I recommend an outline, not necessarily too detailed, because you may find that you deviate from it as you write. Finally, if you can, have readers look at your novel before you submit to agents or publishers.

Thank you very much Carol for sharing your experiences.

If you would like to purchase a copy of  The Handfasted Wife visit Amazon or Accent Press. There is one free apple download of The Handfasted Wife from iTunes for the first lucky person to apply. Use the following code to access this:  XEMRRHEAH7H. It’s well worth popping over to Carol’s blog Scribbling in the Margins where you can find out more about this fascinating period of history and gain further insights into the life and loves of Elditha.


Introducing Alison Morton and her debut novel Inceptio

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I have great pleasure in welcoming Alison Morton to my blog. We met during a writers’ retreat in Portugal last year and I was hugely impressed by the quality of Alison’s writing and her commitment to see her novel in print. I’m delighted to say that INCEPTIO, Alison’s debut novel is published today.

 Tell us how you got started, Alison

An eleven year old fascinated by the mosaics in Ampurias (huge Roman site in Spain), I asked my father, “What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?” Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain, maybe it was just a precocious kid asking a smartarse question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?” Real life intervened (school, uni, career, military, marriage, motherhood, business ownership, move to France), but the idea bubbled away at the back of my mind.

I’d play with words much of my life – playwright (aged 7), article writer, local magazine editor, professional translator and dissertation writer. But I came to novel writing in reaction to a particularly dire film; the cinematography was good, but the plot dire and narration jerky.

‘I could do better that,’ I whispered in the darkened cinema.

‘So why don’t you?’ came my other half’s reply.

Ninety days later, I’d completed the first draft of INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova thriller series.

Of course, I made the classic mistake of submitting too soon, but had some encouraging replies. Several rewrites later and I’d had some full manuscript requests, even from a US agent (INCEPTIO starts in New York)! I had replies like ‘If it was a straight thriller, I’d take it on’ and ‘Your writing is excellent, but it wouldn’t fit our list.’

I was (am!) passionate about my stories so I decided to self publish with bought-in publishing services. Using very carefully chosen high quality professional backing (editing, advice, registrations, typesetting, design, book jacket, proofing, etc.), I’ve found it a fantastic way for a new writer to enter the market.

How is an “alternate history thriller” different from a normal thriller? 

Alternate history is based on the idea of “what if”? What if King Harold had won the Battle of Hastings in 1066? Or if Julius Caesar had taken notice of the warning that assassins wanted to murder him on the Ides of March? Sometimes, it could be little things such as in the film Sliding Doors, when the train door shuts and Gwyneth Paltrow’s character splits into two; one rides away on the train, the other is left standing on the platform.

The rest of the story, or history of a country, from that point on develops differently from the one we know. In my book, Roma Nova battled its way from a small colony in the late fourth century somewhere north of Italy into a high tech, financial mini-state which kept and developed Roman Republican values, but with a twist. It’s really fun working this out! But you really have to know your own timeline history before you can ‘alternate’ it. The thriller story then takes place against this background.

Stories with Romans are usually about famous emperors, epic battles, depravity, intrigue, wicked empresses and a lot of sandals, tunics and swords. But imagine the Roman theme projected sixteen hundred years further forward into the 21st century. How different would that world be?

So what’s INCEPTIO about?

New York – present day, alternate reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe. Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety, a ready-made family and a new career. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus who rescued her in America, isolates her.

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it…

And next? I’m polishing up PERFIDITAS (betrayal), the second book in the Roma Nova series before it goes to the editor. You can find INCEPTIO on Amazon UK  and Amazon US

You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here:



Twitter: @alison_morton


An interview with Fiona Murphy

Profile pictureToday, I’m delighted to introduce Fiona Murphy. She’s an enthusiastic writer, full of intriguing ideas and stories and she’s always keen to make children and parents laugh. She lives in Weymouth with her husband and grown up children. After losing her job she dug out the poetry she had written for her children when they were younger. It was always a dream to get them illustrated and published, but back in the 90s this proved difficult. With the help of social media and the internet she managed to achieve this and while battling with illness, her dream came true. She hopes to continue writing for children and is looking for an agent. Fiona’s collection of children’s poetry titled Down the Plughole is illustrated by Michelle Last and published by Poetry Space.

·            Tell us about your writing journey

I wrote stories for my children when they were young and I’d read them aloud. My children and their friends loved to hear these stories and people said I should try to get them published.  Instead, I kept them in a drawer and many years later, when ill-health meant I couldn’t work any longer, I revisited the stories. I wondered if I could work as a writer.  I had a lot of time to think when I was ill, about my life and where it would go. I wanted to work, I’d had a job since I was fifteen, so during an interview at the job centre, I asked if they’d pay for me to do a writing course and eventually they agreed to cover half the fee.  The course taught me how to put articles together and approach publishers.  I returned to my children’s poetry and thought I could develop that.

  • What inspires you to write now?

I like to come up with characters that make children laugh.  I’m always thinking about new characters and the ideas come from chance remarks, comments, anything from everyday life.  It’s like a seed being planted in my head that gets me thinking.  I like to try out some of the ideas on kids and they tell me whether they like them or not.

·            How did you find an illustrator to turn your children’s poetry into a picture book?

Fiona (illustrated by Michelle Last)

I went to a Facebook page called Writing and Illustrating for Kids and typed a comment saying that I’d written children’s poems and asked if anyone was interested in working with me.  I got two replies and decided to approach Michelle Last, who lives in Leicester.  I loved the quirkiness of her illustrations and the simplicity of the way she draws – it’s quite unique and very suitable for young children.  We each signed a non-disclosure agreement and I sent her examples of my writing.  She illustrated a couple of poems and sent me other drawings. I thought about poems I could write to complement her style.  I wrote some poems in response to her drawings about witches and pirates.  Other poems came from ideas prompted by family and friends.  We worked via email and Facebook until we had a complete book. Then, we met at the Tate Modern in London in March 2011. We made plans to get published, looked at children’s books in the shop and talked about future projects.   I researched publishers of children’s poetry who accepted unsolicited manuscripts and sent off samples of our work.  Michelle did the front cover, and I set up a Facebook page. I built a following on Twitter and came in contact with Sue Simms of Poetry Space. I knew Poetry Space was based in Bristol and sent her an email. She asked to see the book and when I didn’t hear back, I sent a chaser.  A little later she replied saying she wanted to publish Down the Plughole. It turned out that she loved the book and hadn’t got back to me because she’d been on holiday. We signed a contract with Sue and I began to learn more about publishing and layout. I did more work and found out how to add borders and further images. I tried to make the book as attractive as possible for children.

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Blog swap with Vikki Thompson

I’d like to introduce you to Vikki Thompson – she is a prolific blogger and enthusiastic writer – someone I’ve been following for a few months.  She writes a post almost everyday and she has some great ideas and prompts for writing. Today, we’ve decided to do a blog-swap, so if you want to find out more about me, you’ll have to visit Vikki’s place.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this interview with Vikki.

When did you start blogging and why?
I started blogging last year on my Blogspot Blog, as a form of communication with my tutor on a Creative Writing course. I already had the WordPress Blog set up as I’d dabbled a bit whilst doing National Write a Novel Month (Nano for short) in November. I started blogging at The View Outside every day at the beginning of January this year. It was a personal challenge as I was also embarking on a prompt a day (from Judy Reeves’ book A Writer’s Book of Days) and I wanted a record of my writing journey.
How many followers do you have and how did you acquire them?
As of today I have 168 followers, which I’m really pleased about, and thankful for. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I’d rather have 150 followers who make lots of comments, than 500 followers who don’t comment, if that makes sense 😉 I’m not sure how I acquired them lol, I was, and am shocked, that people want to read what I have to say. I couldn’t have wished for more really 🙂
How much time do you spend working on your posts and how does this affect your writing projects?
I used to do my posts daily, but now, I always work a couple of days in advance. I use the scheduling feature, which I discovered whilst doing the A-Z Challenge (I wrote a blog each day of April creating characters with names from A-Z). When I get an idea for a blog post I write a little outline on my iPad and save it to the drafts (I use the WordPress App) and come back to it later. On average I spend about 2 hours a day, just doing blog orientated stuff. Oh gawd yeah! Lol….I find myself blogging instead of writing lol, but, I love blogging, I love the interaction and communication with other bloggers, so that makes it worth it.
How does your interest in visual arts impact on your writing?
A couple of years ago I started doing collages (you can see a selection on my Flickr page which included words, so it was kind of a natural progression to take up writing. I’ve always been inspired by photography and take a lot of photos which I use to inspire stories and scenes in my writing. I love the connection between words and images, so visual art has a huge impact on my writing. Even in my note books I write with different colour pens so that visually, it’s more interesting when I flick back through them searching for ideas 🙂
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Interview with Harry Grenville, Kindertransportee

Harry Grenville

Following Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938, when German and Austrian Nazis smashed 7,500 Jewish stores, the British Jewish Refugee Committee appealed to members of Parliament to admit to England children up to the age of 17. This resettlement was known as Kindertransport and in less than a year, 10,000 Jewish children made the journey from Germany and went to foster families, orphanages or group homes.  This was how Dorchester resident, Harry Grenville, came to live in Camelford, North Cornwall with his sister in July 1939.

What was it like leaving your family and coming to Britain?

As a child, I wasn’t part of the discussion, but I knew a lot of Jewish families in Ludwigsburg were talking about leaving. Not that anyone believed there would be an extermination, but life was getting difficult and there was talk in the community about an ejection.  The plan was that my parents and grandparents would apply for an American visa and we would meet again in the United States.  But my grandfather died from ill health in 1940 and my parents and grandmother were taken to Theresienstadt camp in 1942.

For me, the move was a very quick cut-off and I rapidly became immersed in village life. My sister and I were the foster children of a professional family and we were sent to the grammar school in the small town. I knew a little English when we arrived. I’d been kicked out of the German school in 1936 and then attended the Jewish School in Stuttgart twelve miles away, where I received some English lessons.  I also took private lessons with an elderly American lady from Boston.  In Camelford, I acquired English rapidly, within a month I was familiar with the North Cornwall dialect. My sister and I were welcomed by the village. The youngest son of my foster parents introduced me to others as ‘their refugee’ and the Headmaster’s younger son took a great interest in me. I became absorbed into Cornish life and regarded it as my home but not all Kindertransportees were so fortunate.

 Were you able to keep in touch with your parents?

When the war started it was no longer possible to keep up contact with my family in Germany.  Some relatives passed on letters through Rotterdam and some distant relatives in Seville were able to communicate.  My father’s elder sister in New York also helped.  Through the International Red Cross we received 25-word letters, the last one came in 1944  saying they were leaving the camp for the east. There were no more letters after that. 

Theresienstadt wasn’t an extermination camp but a place where Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were sent.  There was terrible overcrowding and the conditions were poor. Later, most were sent to Auschwitz. When I went to the International Red Cross in Northumberland Avenue in late 1945, their names did not appear amongst the lists of survivors and our fears were confirmed.  

Were you able to grieve for your family?

Not at the time.  I was too busy working for the army. I’d kept up my knowledge of German when I lived in London and worked in a lab at Hammersmith Hospital.  At the time, the army was recruiting interpreters and although I wasn’t accepted into the Russian programme, I was able to train as a German interpreter.  It was a very intensive course and I studied alongside service people and girls who’d completed German A level. Eventually, I was appointed as an interpreter and worked with the administration of the German Prisoner of War camps. I met my wife while I was based in Cattistock and my last job was in Cheltenham.  As part of the work, we had to give the prisoners of war a political grading.  I met a couple of unrepentant Nazis, but 90% were non political and didn’t care.

I came close to a sense of personal sadness in 2009 when I was invited to Germany to see the stolpersteine (stumbling blocks) laid by Gunter Demnig in remembrance of my parents and grandmother.  These are cobblestone-sized memorials for victims of Nazism, set into the paving stones.  I was glad my three children accompanied me as it was very emotional, revisiting the town, the building where my father ran his wholesale business and the flat we lived in.

How do you feel about the continuing market for books and films about the Holocaust?

There’s a lot of literary output about the Nazi period and it’s right that children learn about this in school. I watched The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas on television and was deeply disturbed by that – the horror of it all. 

How has your personal history impacted on your sense of identity?

I was born Heinz Willy Greilsamer but I’ve been Harry Grenville for much longer.  I joined the British Army and later became a teacher of biology.  I am very much part of the British way of life.  I am happy to talk about my experiences, I certainly don’t hide anything.

Thank you very much Harry.