Millie and Bird, Tales of Paradise ~ My First Copy



A package arrived in the post yesterday – my first two copies of Millie and Bird, Tales of Paradise. A rush of thoughts and emotions followed as I opened it: how lucky I am, how beautiful the book is ( it smells wonderful too, as all books hot off the presses do) – this is due to the artist Barbara Skingle’s great generosity in allowing us to use her inspiring image for the front cover and to Pete, Kate and Brian Grogan at Iron Press for their beautiful design. I felt tearful, hard to say why: maybe because I wondered if it would ever happen, maybe because somebody believed in the work enough to publish it, or maybe because of all the hard work and the sheer emotion that went into writing the stories – maybe a mixture of all of these.

Then there was the fear, these are not fashionable stories; who will be interested in these lives lived out on the margins? Then the panic- is the writing good enough, does it live up to the book itself, haven’t I written better, newer stories? But I wasn’t about to let that spoil the day – this is my year for not doing that! So I’ve put my fears to one side and  I’m looking forward very much to launching these stories and to having my book here in front of me, on my desk where I can finally pick it up and know it’s real.

If you would like a copy it will be on sale on Amazon 26th Februaryyou can pre-order HERE

Poem for Julia Darling

juliaThis year New Writing North is celebrating the life and work of the wonderful, poet, playwright and novelist extraordinaire, Julia Darling.

To tie in with the tenth anniversary of Julia Darling’s death, Ellen Phethean, Julia’s business partner at Diamond Twig, is looking to publish poems inspired by Julia on her website.’

I read this yesterday in New Writing North’s Newsletter and immediately knew I wanted to write a poem for Julia.

Would I write about the first time I met her at a writing workshop in the Town Hall in Bishop Auckland, or subsequent times when we ate chips in Bar Mondo, smoked rollies in the Queens? Would I write about the time I took her on a tour of HMP Low Newton where I worked and which she thanked me for so generously in her acknowledgements in The Taxi Driver’s Daughter? Or would my poem be about how she was the first person, other than my great friend and mentor Wendy Robertson, to acknowledge me publicy as (in her words) ‘a talented writer,’?

In the end I decided I would write about none of these. Instead I’ve been writing about a snowy night in January when I read with her at Newcastle City Library. She’d had bad news that day from her consultant, very bad and yet she was as ever her warm, generous self. I’d given up smoking but that seemed unimportant in the face of everything else, and when the readings were over we nipped outside and shared a rollie. Wendy and I only just made it home that night. Sadly, Julia didn’t make it but her spirit, her smile, her energy, her inspiration live on.

I am not, first and foremost a poet and I wasn’t inclined to put my early draft up here for all to read but then, when I thought about Julia, it seemed cowardly not to –

At the City Library with Julia

It is snowing in the city when we go in.
You call us over, glass in hand, to sit at your silvery table.
We shrug off our deerskin coats, gather our wine.
You and I are reading. You are famous. I am not.
There are Russians in the crowd.
You show me your nerves, taking them out to air
subduing mine, ‘Be brief, that’s the key,’ you say
then, as if by way of something ordinary, of
something you forgot to say earlier: ‘Today
my consultant told me its spread to my liver.’
We murmur our sympathies, mime inadequacies,
we do not rant or rave or collapse in a public place.
We drink our wine.

Your words are miracles; operations performed by hand
without incision, scions of faith and hope.
You keep it brief. ‘She goes on too long,’ you say of the poet.

After in the doorway snow accumulates at our feet
and even though I’ve given up smoking we share a rollie,
wonder what the Russians make of it. As we say goodbye
you begin to fret about our long journey home.

We leave the city, its pool of yellow light and walled in
shelter, talking of Julia; the motorway is silent, the way ahead
turning to glass and white. The world is shrinking
under the weight of snow how life becomes so small.


I’m still working on this poem and would welcome any feedback – seriously, I want it to be the best it can be.

If you would like to offer your poem about Julia, please send it to Ellen at with a short piece about a memory of how you were inspired by Julia. Poems will be published from April

Brene Brown – Daring Greatly

You may know of Brene Brown*, you may have listened via YouTube to her TED talk on vulnerability and shame. I have to admit she was news to me until very recently. I suspect I’ve come late to this party but come I have and I want to share the party with you, especially those of you who like me suffer from doubt about ourselves and our work, or from the disease of perfectionism, from never feeling ‘good’ enough; who suffer from the masks we wear to hide our vulnerability, our fear and discomfort.
Brene Brown opens up the box of this ‘shame,’ of ‘never enough,’ – never good enough, thin enough, successful enough, smart enough etc etc and what it is to be vulnerable and she does it in an honest life enhancing way. In her book Daring Greatly, How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, she argues that none of us are immune to the issues around vulnerability and as writers we are particularly vulnerable when we ‘put our art, writing, our photography, our ideas out into the world with no assurance of acceptance or appreciation.’ That’s vulnerability for you. The willingness to ‘show up’ to walk into the arena and give it our best shot. ‘What,’ she asks ‘is worth doing even if I fail?’ Good question.
Being vulnerable is not a weakness. Putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of feeling hurt and afraid. But fear leads to disconnection and lost opportunities. Avoiding vulnerability and emotional exposure will limit our lives.
‘Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive.’
This is a book which dares us to engage with life wholeheartedly, to embrace the fear and the joy.
I find a lot in that has resonated with me. I’m reading it for a second time. I think it will change some of my thinking and I hope the way I live too. For one thing I might stop worrying so much and feeling so ashamed about not being thin which has really been a lifelong struggle for me.
*Brene Brown is a respected academic who undertook twelve years of research before writing this book.

New Year Letter to Myself

On New Year’s day I read a great blog post by the poet Anthony Wilson. In this post he writes himself a letter for the coming year – he inspired me to do the same


Dear Avril

The New Year came gently at first, in clouds and a wind from the west. By evening the wind was fierce, demanding to be heard. As you take possession of the house, breathing out in all directions, you feel yourself shift like the wind. Contentment and peace and anticipation of the year ahead turn to restlessness, worry, unwarranted anxiety.

In the coming year you will spend many days like this: a funambulist, feet curled on the wire, troubled by the wind. The trick is to find the space between the highwire and the fall: the days of leather-soled slippers and lace umbrellas where you tread lightly, in balance, the days where the wire is narrow and the wind strong. You will find this space in the act of writing and creating something new.

You have days to look to, to mark on the calendar: the publication of your short story collection, a launch, workshops, a festival, a literary gig, a week of poetry – dates marked with stars, red letter days. Enjoy them, know that you find it all too easy to underplay them, you’ve been schooled for that from long ago. Try not to do that this year. Try to make them truly red letter. Do not apologise.

But remember the unmarked days: mornings of writing, afternoons of reading and being mindful, watching the trees blacken in the late sun, days you long for when you don’t have them, radio days, peaceful, alone days. And the days of sun and friendship, writing in the courtyard in Agde. These are the precious days, the days that live up to unheld expectations. The quiet days.

Take care of your body, keep your back loose, exercise more, stretch, do yoga, otherwise it’s going to get very hard to work at the computer and do the thing you want to do more than any other.

Poetry is calling, find the inspiration. Read. Read. Read. Finish your novella. Be proud of what you do, quietly proud.

Do not concern yourself with acclaim… ‘try to acclaim… a little bit every day, but not too much. Just some…’*

Give yourself permission to be more selfish and more giving. Give yourself permission to ask for what you want.*

‘Write as if you are not afraid.’*


*Sharon Olds
*Amanda Palmer
*Anthony Wilson

Happy New Year and more…

The New Year has blown itself grey- skied through the garden and the house. The wind is warm, the rain on the glass roof sweet-tempered. The house, finally empty, spins still with voices and goodwill. It has been a Happy Christmas. 2015 beckons invitingly. My suprise Christmas present was a PDF of the book cover for my collection of short storie, Millie and Bird and Tales of Paradise, which landed in my Inbox on Dec 30th.  I opened it, it filled the screen and tears welled. To have someone believe in your work enough to publish it is a rare gift. My thanks to Iron Press and the indefatigable Peter Mortimer.

I’ve begun the New Year reading Sharon Olds – Stag’s Leap – words that come to mind: intimate, accessible, brave, honest… and shocking in its generosity.

I like what Sharon Olds has to say about writers and writing, she is refreshingly uncomplicated. Here she is in an interview with Sam Parker following her TS Eliot prize win

‘Here’s the thing – writers are not confident people… We work and we hope and we doubt ourselves. And for women of my age, who grew up in very patriarchal times – even more so than it is now – I think the pleasure is in just being able to be writers as the world changes around us. You don’t wake up in the morning feeling ‘acclaimed’. We try to acclaim ourselves a little bit every day, but not too much. Just some…”

This brings me to  a very special blog post for New Year’s day written by the poet Anthony Wilson. In this post he writes himself a letter for the coming year – he has inspired me to do the same – I will post it here once it’s done, also a preview of the book cover.

Happy 2015  – my first newsletter of 2015 will be out on Mon Jan 5th

The Latest in Writers’ Rooms – Kathleen Jones

For a Christmas treat – take  a peek at biographer, novelist and poet Kathleen Jones’  ‘made to measure,’ writing room. Tucked away at the top of an old  converted mill it’s the perfect writer’s getaway. Kathleen is an acclaimed biographer best known for her life of Kathleen Mansfield. She is also a novelist and an award winning poet. She blogs regularly about life and writing at A Writer’s Life.

You can see her Writer’s Room HERE

Wishing you all a Happy Christmas and a great writing year ahead!




Debora Levy

Ever since reading Deborah Levy’s novella Swimming Home I’ve been interested in her writing which had somehow passed me by before.
Last week I read Things I Don’t Want to Know – her powerful mix of memoir and reflections on a writing life – touching, honest and entirely brilliant! And I’ve now just bought her short story collection Black Vodka as I’m quite sure I will both enjoy it as a reader but also find it inspirational in my own work.

If you have a spare half hour, or better still make a spare half hour, listen to Deborah Levy talking about writing short stories HERE: scroll down for episode 6
I’m  particularly interested in  the way she talks about the unfolding of fiction and the slow reveal – the unraveling of things, the way we can enjoy the enigma at the outset of a story where we ask: Where am I? Who are these people? What’s happening? Something to think about for the writers among us. In fact there’s a great deal of food for thought here as Levy unravels her own story Placing A Call
I notice too when she reads the story (approx. 600 words) how so much of what she does is simply the naming of things/objects – which is something I’ve heard children’s writer David Almond say about writing many times. I’ve posted about it before HERE

Listening to Debora Levy certainly made me think of a short story I’d written some long time ago and how I could make it so much better – inspirational or what? Enjoy.


The above appears as one item of my weekly newsletter for writers – if you would like to receive it free every Monday – e mail me at        – or scroll down on the right and fill in the form

Writers’ Rooms and Changes

Yes I know I’m always changing my blog!  This time I’ve gone back to my previous blog style. I  liked the new look (lots of people commented on it – they seemed to like it too)  but somehow  it didn’t call to me in the same way – it didn’t invite me to write. I liked the aesthetic but it didn’t feel like a writer’s blog and so I’ve returned to a style that makes me want to write.

Interesting what a profound effect design can have in our lives. Which brings me very neatly to writers’ rooms. All of the rooms I’ve featured so far have reflected the desire for a writer to make his or her own space – we all need a space that calls to us, whether it be a blog, a bedroom, a purpose built garden house or an ironing board in the spare room. The spaces featured in  Writers’ Rooms are entirely unique. I find them fascinating which is why I’ve decided to honour them with a permanent page.

I’d love to add you to the growing list – just email me your text and photo if you have one -(or text only if not) – and I will put you in my Writers’ Rooms

My 100th Newsletter and Free Offer

glassesTomorrow – Monday – my 100th newsletter will go out to all my subscribers!!  Thank you for staying with me on my writing journey and if the newsletter has given you good information and  occasional inspiration then I am happy

To celebrate I’m offering From Writing With Love free on Kindle from Monday to Friday – you can get your free copy HERE

Also I would like to feature my newsletter and blog readers – that’s YOU – here on my blog. If you’d like to appear then e mail me a photo of your writing room or desk or favourite place to write with a few lines of accompanying text and I will publish them here. (If you haven’t got  a photo then tell me about it, text alone will be fine ) Go on – don’t be shy. I’d love to hear from you.

My email address is,  and if you don’t currently subscribe to my newsletter but would like to receive it then just e mail me and I will add you to my list

Above  a virtual glass or two of pink champagne – cheers!