the writer is a lonely hunter


Travelling and writing

An interview with Allison Symes for Chandler’s Ford Today has me sharing stories about travelling overland on a converted Lodekka bus with Top Deck Travel in 1981.Group Shot at Winery Lyonn (2)

Find out how this journey links to the publication of Paisley Shirt here.


Recently published on Paragraph Planet: take my advice

Please find below a 75-word story that was recently published on Paragraph Planet.  This is a great way for your work to reach a wider audience.The website’s been running since November 2008 and each day there’s a new 75-word story to enjoy.  Famous authors, aspiring writers and occasional dabblers have all been involved by making a range of submissions. Here’s one of mine:

Take my advice and see if it helps: (1) stay strong; (2) listen to your reflective voice; (3) treat yourself kindly; (4) tell the circling thoughts to piss off; (5) go out with friends: you’ve chosen them wisely; (6) eat well, drink a little wine; (7) work hard: there’s intrinsic satisfaction to be had; (8) you’re allowed to feel sad at times; (9) you’re special, remember that; (10) give it time, you’ll meet someone new.

Why don’t you give it a go?

Leave a comment »

Launch of The Swan-Daughter in Bicester

61247Last week, Dave and I travelled to Oxfordshire for the launch of Carol McGrath‘s novel The Swan-Daughter.  This is the second book in the Daughters of Hastings trilogy and it’s great to be back in the company of an accomplished story-teller. Carol’s style of writing is charming, allowing readers to enter the life of Gunnhild, the daughter of King Harold and Edith Swanneck. Based on research, the novel provides a lasting impression of the lives and struggles during the early Norman period. Essentially it’s a love story, starting with Gunnhild’s escape the nunnery at Wilton Abbey and her elopement with Count Alan of Richmond. 

The book launch was held at Cole’s Books in the delightful market town of Bicester. We stayed overnight in the Pentewan B&B  a lovely place tucked away from the main thoroughfare – we even had a dip in the hot tub in the garden!

St Catherine's College

St Catherine’s College

The following day, we stopped in Oxford and Dave and I wandered through the grounds of his old college then spent the afternoon in the Ashmolean Museum. It was great! Now that I have membership at the Bodleian Library, I look forward to returning, research for my studies makes a good excuse.


A bit of luck

Just when I thought I had to return to the office for three more days of work after taking leave next week, I discovered that I’m actually owed some days. As a result, my last day of employment with the County Council will be Friday and I’m madly trying to get everything done ready for a holiday in Edinburgh starting on Saturday.  We’re flying from Southampton and taking hand luggage only, so decanting liquids has been the order of the day. Fortunately, the flat that we’re staying at in Stockbridge provides shampoo and shower gel, so it’s only face creams that I need to worry about.

I’ve packed a couple of paperbacks including The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie and The Polish Boxer (which was recommended by Sarah Bower) and you can read a review here. I’ve downloaded two audiobooks to my ipod: Catch 22 and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. So when I’m not attending sessions at the Book Festival or the Fringe I’ll have plenty to keep my busy.

Have a good week.


The Notebook

Please find The Notebook below, my entry to FLASH MOB 2013. This is a blog competition celebrating International Flash Fiction Day on 22 June. To join the carnival all you have to do is post a previously unpublished piece of flash fiction (300 words or fewer, not including title) to your own blog before the 10 June. Not long to go, so you’d better get cracking! Find more details here.

listing books read notebook           The Notebook

            ‘You’ll have another one?’ Paul drained his pint glass and nodded towards Jane’s tumbler containing only water from the melted ice. ‘One more G and T won’t do you any harm.’

            ‘I guess not,’ she said.

            While he was at the bar, Jane took the pad from her handbag and made a note of jobs for the weekend: woollen wash, change sheets, dismantle wardrobe, take to dump.

            ‘What’s that you’re doing?’ He ground the base of her glass against the table and leaned over, trying to read the words.

            ‘It’s to stop me forgetting the one or two things I need to do.’

            ‘You and your lists.’

            ‘Indeed,’ Jane closed the cover.

            Paul weaved his fingers through his fringe and Jane’s spine contracted with a stab of irritation. He’d always worn that ring on his right hand, as if he never was sure about being married. A shaft of light through the stained glass made a kaleidoscope of colours on the carpet, a torch through the fug.

            ‘Of course, if you really had your priorities right, my name would be at the top of your list,’ said Paul.‘That would show you believe in me.’

            ‘I do Paul,’ sighed Jane. ‘You’ll get a job soon enough.’

            ‘I worked 20 years for that firm and what do I get for my loyalty?’

            ‘They made the whole department redundant. It’s not as if they were picking on you.’

            ‘Less of the lecture, Jane.’

            By ten o’clock Paul’s shoulders were hunched and he jabbed Jane’s notebook. ‘Come on then. Put me at the top of the list.’

            Jane took the ballpoint and scrawled across the page: I be-leave-in you, Paul.

            She passed the paper over and he squinted, trying to decipher her writing.

            ‘That’ll do,’ he said.


The Next Big Thing: Paula’s Secret

I’ve admired the short stories and flash fiction written by Angela Williams under the name of Susan Carey for sometime time now.  Like me, Angela’s work has featured on the 1000 words website and her story was chosen for inclusion in the National Flash Fiction Day e-anthology for 2012. Angela lives in Amsterdam, and is a member of Writers Abroad. When she shared information about the group’s annual anthology on her blog, it gave me a chance to think back to my expatriate days in Papua New Guinea and I submitted a story that was accepted for publication in ‘Foreign Encounters’.  I was delighted when she tagged me in ‘The Next Big Thing’ blog chain and I answer the questions below:

What is the working title of your next book?

My latest novel started life as ‘First Time Mums’ but then graduated to the new working title of ‘Paula’s Secret’.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started work on this manuscript during the summer of 2012.  I’d written a couple of pieces of flash fiction about those first few months after childbirth, when relationships shift to give priority to the baby and I thought there was mileage in the idea.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a romantic comedy and I’m new to this genre. I met Allie Spencer at a story slam in Shaftesbury and when I read a couple of her books and some others, I thought I’d like to give it a try.

Which actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Paula is the main character, previously dotty about her dog but once Baby Boo arrives, she refocuses her attention. She’s juxtaposed with her best friend Kirsty, who is also a new mother and struggling to use the same methods that brought her success in the workplace to become a model parent.  It’s the different approaches to parenting that bring humour to the novel and I guess Ann Hathaway would be a good lead.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Kirsty struggles to make the most of family life with her new-born and when Paula won’t reveal who is the father of her baby, Kirsty decides that bringing her best friend’s family together is her next priority.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I won a competition during 2012 to have sixty copies of my fiction collection ‘Four Buses printed, so I know all about the rewards and pitfalls of self publishing. It may sound mad but getting the book into print isn’t my priority at the moment. I’m much more concerned with getting the writing to the best possible standard.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first draft took five months and it’s currently in a drawer waiting for me to gather my wits and tackle it again.  I’m planning to begin the rewriting at the end of January, then I’ll be going full pelt ready to submit a decent draft to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme at the end of August.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I haven’t read many books written about new mothers although when I was researching titles I came across one or two.  ‘The Hand that First Held Mine’ by Maggie O’Farrell is a good example of how the arrival of a baby casts light into the shadows of personal experience. But I can’t begin to compare ‘Paula’s Secret’ to such an accomplished novel and it’s not in the same genre, anyway.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Getting positive comments on the short stories and flash fiction that I’ve written has encouraged me to try writing with strong themes, on a bigger scale.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Floosie the Husky-cross dog has a significant role in the story!

I’d like to tag a wonderful writer of historical fiction, Carol McGrath, who is hugely knowledgeable about the medieval period. She’s a great on-line friend, tweeting early in the mornings and her blog Scribbling in the Margins, provides posts from all over the world. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Carol during a writing retreat in Cornwall and another which she hosted in Portugal. Carol is an attentive listener and when I share my writing, her feedback is erudite. She’s a great companion, story-teller and adventurer. I can’t wait to read her first novel, which she wrote while undertaking post-graduate studies at the Royal Holloway University. ‘The Handfasted Wife’ will be published in 2013.



National Association of Writers in Education: 25th anniversary conference

The Minster’s Western Front (Wikipedia)

I was in York at the weekend, attending a wonderful conference where I also delivered a workshop.  Participants attending ‘Flash Fiction:  keeping it short’ came from across the phases of education, all with an interest in developing writing for themselves and their students. I shared a range of prompts aimed to get those less experienced in writing flash started.  These included:

  • Looking at classified advertisements for inspiration
  • Getting ideas for writing from Dulux colour cards (this prompt originates from Calum Kerr, Director of National Flash Fiction Day)
  • Using pages from small, illustrated notebooks to focus the mind on purposeful word selection
  • Drawing upon a photo to think about the story behind the image, from the photographer’s point of view
  • Describing stereotypes from ‘Come Dine with Me’ to create characters you love to hate
  • Self publishing mini books by folding and cutting a sheet of A4 paper
  • Finding markets for your writing:  a selection of websites and magazines that accept flash fiction.

I’d like to thank everyone that came to the workshop for engaging so readily in the tasks, for being willing to share the outcomes from the prompts and for the feedback provided. Read the rest of this entry »


Writing Britain (and more about notebooks)

The British Library’s current exhibition Writing Britain illustrates the changing landscape of the country over the last 1000 years with reference to items from the collection and loans from elsewhere. The exhibition includes artwork, original manuscripts and texts that explore a range of locations grouped according to the following sections:

  • Rural dreams
  • Dark Satanic Mills
  • Wild Places
  • Beyond the City
  • Cockney Visions
  • Waterlands

Interestingly, writing about Dorset features in several of the sections, including Maiden Castle by John Cowper Powys which tells the story of a supernatural presence at the iron-age hill fort near Dorchester. Jane Austen’s Persuasion is set in Bath and Lyme Regis, where Louisa Musgrave falls from the harbour wall (known as The Cobb) in an attempt to gain male attention. Harold Pinter’s script for The French Leiutenant’s Woman, based upon the novel by John Fowles is also set in Lyme Regis. A little further along the Dorset coast, Chesil Beach features as the location for Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, where Edward and Florence spend their wedding night at a fictitional hotel on the beach.

Read the rest of this entry »


#FridayFlash: Socks


The paper bag is damp in my hand and I peek inside – most of the sherbet pips are stuck together like frogs’ spawn. I pull free a chunk and it fizzes on my tongue. Angela’s got rhubarb and custard, she counts the sweets, putting them in a line along her thigh.

‘That’s not fair.’ She talks with a sweet tucked inside her cheek, making her look like a gerbil. ‘Last time I bought two ounces, I got eight sweets, but I’ve only got six this time.’

‘Don’t forget the one in your mouth,’ I say.

‘Oh yes.’ She nods and returns the sweets to the bag, inspecting the yellow and red sides. ‘This one’s chipped. D’you want it?’

‘Let’s swap.’ I take the sweet from her and spill some loose pips into her palm.

‘Is that all I get? ’ She downs the scattering in one go.

I’ve been walking home with Angela for a whole week now. She’s nice – she’s the friendliest person in my new school. She lives round the corner from me and she says I can call for her in the mornings, if I like. I wish I could sit next to her, but I’m stuck with Brian Reader. He takes more than his fair share of the desk and he rubs his leg against mine when he gets up from the chair.

‘Let’s have a look in the stream.’ Angela picks up her satchel and leads the way. I don’t have a bag so it’s easy for me to scramble over the rocks, but she has to make a path over the dried mud. Once we’re by the water, she dares me to walk under the bridge. I look at the sloping sides and water laps right up to the edge.

‘I can’t. I can’t get my sandals wet.’

‘You won’t get wet. There’s enough of a ledge to walk on.’ Angela points. ‘I’ve done it loads of times.’

‘You go first then.’

Angela clutches her satchel and takes side-by-side steps, her back against the concrete wall. I watch her until she beckons. I’m only a couple of paces in when there’s a splash. She’s dropped her satchel and it’s floating down the stream.

‘What are you going to do?’

‘Get it, of course.’ She steps into the ankle deep water, then trots along, chasing the bag. When she catches it, she swings the satchel onto the ground, splattering droplets into the air like a fountain. I find her sitting on the bank, her legs are soaked and she’s using a leaf to dry her satchel.

‘Aren’t you going to check inside?’

Angela undoes the buckles and finds her pencil-case, the new felt-pens are leaking. She takes off her socks and wrings them, then wiping her pens, she turns them into a tie-dye of colours.

‘Won’t your mum mind about your socks?’

‘I don’t think so,’ says Angela. ‘Not if I tell her Brian Reader pushed me into the stream.’

This story first appeared on FlashFlood in celebration of National Flash Fiction Day on 16 May 2012


What sort of notebook do you use?

This post is inspired by Vikki from The View Outside, who drew upon Simon Whaley’s article in Writers’ Forum, to reorganise the way she records ideas for writing into separate notebooks. I have a similar system, which I’ll share with you here. I am a prolific note-maker:  to do lists, shopping lists, birthday lists, packing lists you name it, I make a list.  I use reporters’ notebooks for all household things and rip the pages out as I go. But for my writing, I use better quality notebooks.

These are the Moleskin notebooks I carry around with me in case of emergency note-taking. I have two different sizes which are used according to the handbag selected.  The covers are plain and functional.  Bruce Chatwin favoured these notebooks and bought a stock of them to take to Australia when researching his book The Songlines.

This year, I’ve decided to keep a record of all the books I read and note the details in this pretty book given to me by my niece for Christmas. You can find out which book is currently beside my bed and my latest recommendations here.

Read the rest of this entry »