Is Your Protagonist Male or Female ..?

Is your protagonist male or female? Chances are if she’s female you’re less likely to be published. Read this important piece by Nicola Griffith on the scarcity of female narratives in literary fiction in  The Seattle Review of Books

Then take a look at her blog post Books About Women Tend Not to Win Awards

No wonder Kamilla Shamsie is calling for a year of publishing women  –both issues seem intrinsically linked to me and it’s great to see a dialogue finally making headlines.


Kamilla Shamsie


Nicola Griffiths



imagesIt’s not every writer’s cup of tea I know but one of the things I really enjoy about the writing life is being invited to read from my work. I rarely find it scary, in fact I think it’s a privilege. I think my lack of fear probably goes back to all my years of addressing row on row of prison officers at full staff meetings (now that can be scary or at least it was until I got used to it), or as I did once, a whole conference of Prison Governors.

So often, in this life, I end up reading in interesting and beautiful places, very different from those behind the prison walls – here are some of those places:

The Society Cafe Soho, on the faux lawn outside Foyles on the Southbank (that was a bit scary as it it was outside and it felt like reading to the world,) in a potting shed in Tom and Sue Stuart-Smith’s Barn Garden, in the RNLI building in Cullercoats with the tide coming in, libraries in Newcastle and Norwich, Chetham’s School of Music Manchester, Wharf Chambers Co-operative club in Leeds, Teikyo University of Japan Durham…

They were all very special in their own way. But I am happy to read anywhere. Who says writing is just a solitary, stay at home gig? It’s taken me to some great places and I hope there will be many more.

My top 3 tips for readings – 1. Practice, practice, practice. 2. Don’t go on too long. 3. Enjoy

You can listen HERE on You Tube to me reading in Leeds I have to admit while I love to do it, I don’t especially love to see or hear the recording – it’s weird, do I really look and sound like that?

Summer Postcards

imagesThere’s something about a postcard* – the image that captures the view and then in that small white space just about enough room for a ‘hello, wish you were here,’ a neat piece of flash fiction, a polished description, or even a poem. Perhaps that’s why I like SetInModern’s idea of submitting your summer postcards for their summer-calls-for-submission. It costs to submit your 500 words (although not if you’re a member) but they pay for published pieces – publication and a fee – now that can’t be bad.

*My friend and writing buddy, the writer Wendy Robertson is currently on holiday in the beautiful South West of France. She has written a number of postcards and posted them on here on her blog  – lovely idea.

In my newsletter this week – competition and submission opportunities, and ‘writing from the drawer.’  You can sign up for it on the right and get a free PDF on writing short stories (your privacy is always respected)

Novella or Novel ?

I thought I was writing a novella. I think I might be writing a novel – albeit a short one. I think I might be on the cusp around the 50,000 word mark, although it would be longer were the language used different, as my protagonist Aiyana speaks in an unusual and abbreviated syntax. Of course the world and her/his dog will tell you that publishers want at least 60-70,000 words for a novel and that trying to get a novella published is hopeless. So what to do in the face of the statistics* and the advice?

Continue reading

Writer or Word Artist? 5 Reasons Why Calling Yourself a Writer Doesn’t Always Work


Word Art from a poem I’ve been working on

The lovely Rachel Cochrane from Listen up North has recently posted about her collaboration with photographer James SebrightNissan Thirty Years On, a wonderful exhibition, well worth visiting, now in situ at The Oriental Museum in Durham. She describes how on the evening of the opening Curator Dr Craig Barclay described her as a ‘word artist.’

Rachel says, ‘I think I might just adopt that description as I have been struggling with what to call myself for some time because the title ‘writer’ doesn’t really cover everything I do.’

This set me thinking about the label ‘writer’and just how loaded and limiting it can be. Here are my 5 reasons: Continue reading

My Newsletter

Why not sign up for my free newsletter?  In time I hope we might build a community of writers, in the meantime I’ve been sending out weekly newsletters for about two years now and I get to know some readers and get some great feedback.

This week the newsletter has information about: three different competitions, two different online sources of inspiration I’ve enjoyed this week, an exhibtion that I intend to revisit with my notebook and a live event.

I’m also offering new newsletter readers a free PDF on Writing Short Stories from my book From Writing With Love

If you’re interested there’s more HERE or you can sign up for the newsletter on the right and of course you’re free to unsubscribe at any time.


Spinalonga Crete



Iron Eclectic Festival – Cullercoats

I’ve just come from reading at the Iron Eclectic Festival in Cullercoats. The sea was always within view from our second floor seafront flat – we could see it from every window, and almost touch it. Watching the tide come in and out was hypnotic and deeply relaxing. On Wednesday a giant Japan Lunar Eclipsered moon rose over the sea as if in celebration.

On Friday evening I read from Millie and Bird  in the RNLI, the sea on three sides. I read The Trouble with Holy Island which seemed appropriate with the North Coast stretching away at my back. It was a wonderful and memorable place to read with a really appreciative audience.

On Saturday singer songwriter Katie Doherty sang 5 songs and poet Colette Bryce did a reading in the same room at the RNLI. I came away from the event inspired, sat in a cafe across the road, my head filled with songs and words and wrote the bones of a poem, which you can read below.

A rare reading by Tony Harrison made Saturday night very special indeed. Then to the Salt House – late night festival hub (perhaps more red wine than I’d planned). Sadly I had to come away today. I do so tired but as always inspired by Iron Press and everything they do…


Songs and Words for the People

(on hearing Kate Doherty and Colette Bryce)


There’s a smell of patchouli in the room

waistcoat, haircut and boots,

poets gather like a kite-string of gulls

chasing the catch,

and at the piano, ‘waiting for something warmer,

songs for people who deserve them,’

a whisper of spells.


Under soft lids and fringe, in quiet tones

you speak a litany of poems.

Hermit crabs and lobsters crawl from your page

make me want to peek inside the laboratory

swim under John’s blue fingers

live by the sea in winter.


Coming out and the steps

slow for breath

crossing the road

to the Beaches and Cream cafe

opposite the sign for the university.

The Dove Marine laboratory fixes me through

the open door


and tethered flags fight the wind

wanting to be a part of it, straining

loose from Culfre-cots, across intertidal

pools and rocks to Whitley Bay

bearing the scent of patchouli and salt

to sea a flock of words and songs.

Eclectic Iron

Yes, it’s this year’s Iron festival and at at 7.30 on Friday evening in the RNLI building in Cullercoats I will be reading from my short story collection Millie and Bird – really looking forward to reading in this wonderful building so close to the sea and I hope to see you there. Tickets for all events are selling fast so book now!

‘Following the roaring success of the 2013 IRON AGE Festival, which won Best Event Tyneside Award in The Journal Culture Awards 2014 and was described by writer David Almond as “the best festival I’ve ever read at” (and he’s read at a lot globally), we’re delighted to announce Eclectic IRON – a Festival of Words, Music & Oddities. Full programme – and it is a very full programme! – and how to book now published.

The Festival will take place at six different venues facing onto the beautiful Cullercoats Bay from Thursday June 4 to Sunday June 7, 2015 and once again there’s a heady mix of the famous, the grass-roots, the curious and the downright bizarre.’

Now I’m not sure which of the above catogories I fit into – famous I think not  – maybe grass-roots – I settle for that… :)