Free for Wednesday

It’s FREE and it’s probably the best advice you’re ever going to get -at

Authors Share Their Best Writing Tips with NYPL -


 So make yourself a cup of coffee click the link,  scroll down, and  listen HERE to Toni Morrison  on writing what you don’t know

“I tell my students; I tell everybody this. When I begin a creative writing class I say, ‘I know you’ve heard all your life, “Write what you know.” Well I am here to tell you, “You don’t know nothing. So do not write what you know. Think up something else. Write about a young Mexican woman working in a restaurant and can’t speak English. Or write about a famous mistress in Paris who’s down on her luck.”

Tuesday for Free

cropped-botanic-journal-may-4-002.jpgThe classic writing style guide The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. is now freely available online. Hooray. John Clare, in The Telegraph, called it   “…a marvellous and timeless little book… Here, succinctly, elegantly and without fuss are the essentials of writing clear, correct English.”

All the answers to those tricky grammar and punctuation questions at the click of a button FIND IT HERE



Monday for Free

This Monday a great source for stylish FREE pictures, useful for your blog posts, book covers etc. You can find

Magdeleine Hand-picked free photos for your inspiration, some great black and white photos  HERE



Writing Short Fiction

workThis is the table in my study where I’m working on my new novella/short novel. I don’t always, or often, cut things up or stick post-it notes everywhere but on this occasion I needed a strategy to help me think what next and enable me to move forward. Cutting things up, moving them around, highlighting new things to be written or connections between things on blue post-its, proved a good creative solution.

I had two things to work with: Eating Words, my  Manchester Fiction Prize shortlisted story - long before Manchester I’d made the decision to continue writing Alice’s story – and 6,000 words which I’d written in France.

There were a number of things to think about – how could I move away from the short story or at least not be hidebound by it? How would I manage time? What would the structure be? What about the repetition in the fragmented pieces in my notebook?  I had lots of ideas but before I could write it was time to make some decisions – that’s the novella for you – it makes early demands on the writer in particular in terms of  ‘how.’  You can write on as I did in France but before long choices will have to be made. Short fiction is a fascinating form and tomorrow at our Teikyo workshop myself and writer Wendy Robertson will be sharing with those who’ve signed up, everything we’ve learned about it  so far. Can’t wait! Looking forward to it very much. Workshops are always – or at least always should be – as inspirational for the tutors as the participants. See you there…

If you’re interested in writing short fiction of novella length (approx anywhere between 10-50,000 words), both Wendy and I will be posting more about this on our blogs in the coming weeks

Manchester Fiction Prize

Well I didn’t win the Manchester Prize but a young writer Martin MacInnes did and to my mind he was a very talented and worthy winner. It was good evening, not without it’s tensions of course, because although it’s a privilege  to be shortlisted, it’s still quite an ordeal going to such an event and coming out the other end in one piece. For the winner it’s a huge high I know, for the losers it’s inevitably deflating. All that adrenalin and nowhere for it to go. For me, insomniac that I am, this meant watching Manchester’s still buzzing nightlife at 4am from the hotel bedroom window.

One of the best things about the evening was meeting the other shortlisted writers, especially Martin and Adrian, and sharing the nerves. Meeting the judges, Nicholas Royle, Claire Dean and Christopher Burns was especially good too. They were approachable, friendly and enthusiastic  and very surprised they told me to discover, when the authors were revealed*, that I was from the UK and not the USA.  This was due to the southern, Arkansas, White River voice of Alice, the young woman in my story, the voice which according to Claire  jumped off the page at her after a long night spent reading stories (mine was in her pile).

My personal highlight was getting to read two and half minutes worth of Alice’s story Eating Words in the impressive surroundings of Chetham’s Baronial Hall. Hard to beat that experience. If you’d like to read my story you can download it by clicking on the LINK HERE

Now I need a rest but I’m really looking forward to getting back to writing and to the novella workshop on Saturday.

* The competition was judged blind as all good short story competitions should be.

In my newsletter this week – why all good prose writers should read and write poetry – if you’d like to receive it free of charge just e mail me at and I’ll add you to my list

Manchester Prize for Fiction and the Croydon Girls

I’m just back from London and a very special visit to Croydon High School for Girls where I led several short story workshops in their wonderful library. There’s so much going on in the library, all credit to the lovely librarian Karen and her enthusiastic readers and helpers. There are some very talented writers there too – and I’m hoping that some of them will now get into that notebook habit and start scribbling – who knows where it will lead.

I did catch cold in London, the only downside of my trip, but despite my cold I am absolutely thrilled to have been shortlisted for the Manchester Prize for Fiction. The only woman too -so I’ll definitely be flying the female flag and thinking of the Croydon Girls!

The prize giving and announcement of the winner will take place on Friday October 17th –  so wish me luck. If you’d like to find out about the other five shortlisted writers and read their stories, as well as mine, you can do so HERE

Writing Your Blurb – Millie and Bird Collection

M&B cover

Part of a mocked-up cover

Very excited to be looking at mocked-up covers for my Millie and Bird short story collection  and very fortunate to have the permission of artist Barbara Skingle to use her painting Katherine and Millie, which inspired my Costa winning story, as the cover image.

I have also been trying to write my version of the blurb and bio for the back of the book – it’s great to have this degree of involvement with the whole process and also to have great  advice from my editor at Iron Press  Peter Mortimer. But writing your own blurb can be tricky. One way to get started is to find a blurb on the back of  a book you already have that you think is good and use that as a starting point, if not as a kind of template. Ask yourself how is it structured, how long, what language is used – key words, questions etc?

Blurbs should be concise and punchy, they are not about telling the story although they may give  a glimpse of the beginning and  a hint of what is to come. They should pose questions, intrigue, make the reader want to know more. To write them can be revealing – suddenly we have to ask ourselves what is this collection of stories all about, what do these stories have in common? For this reason it can be a great exercise to write the blurb for your work in progress. If you are working on a novel or a collection of stories or poems try writing the blurb and you might be surprised what you discover. Knowing the essence of the novel, of what it is really about, can also inform the rest of the writing.

So what did I discover about my collection? Well, for one thing it’s teeming with birds – birds fall out of the sky, herons inhabit the river, a swan comes at night… I could go on. It was a surprise to me, I tend to think of water as my element but maybe it’s air too.  There is earth too and invisible pathways. Less of a surprise was the way loss and survival are threaded through my writing and mingled with them, the coming of ghosts and the whisper of dreams and longing.

My Top 3 Tips for Dealing with Rejection

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe life of a writer is paved with rejection but if you wait long enough and work hard enough there will be success too. While I was away in France I experienced both. There was the good news and then there was the bad news. First came the good news: I’d been shortlisted in a big competition (more of this at a later date!) Then the bad news: an editor turned down my novel. But her reasons were good and her comments were encouraging so I’m not taking it to heart. Besides, since I’ve been back I’ve been busy with lots of things including a new short novel and the editing of my Millie and Bird collection of  stories, which Iron Press are publishing next year. Keeping busy is a sure fire way of dealing with rejection – Here are my 3 top tips for dealing with rejection

1.Write the next thing, keep writing, keep writing, keep writing, keep…this is crucial, involving yourself in the next project keeps you from dwelling on the disappointment.

2.Try not to blame others and don’t fall into the envy trap it just makes you bitter and twisted

3.Love your life and celebrate your writing – buy cream cakes, drink wine with a friend, keep a special notebook where you write down 3 good things a day, everyday.

‘Don’t take rejection to heart. It’s NOT personal.’ I read this today on Nik Perring’s blog and I think it’s great advice – there’s lots here, so do take a look.

Beautiful France

Back from France to a dreich day – ah where ‘s that soft sun and balmy breeze?  Well I have my photos and if I close my eyes I’m almost there…well almost…




  • cafe

House, river, cafe and writing – Bliss..

How NOT to Write the Book that Makes You Millions – 3

Ok – you get the idea. I’m just not convinced by all that ‘how to make a million,’ ‘write a bestseller,’  advice out there. It’s really for people who want to make their fortune, not people who want to write a good book. Although of course the two are not mutually exclusive – there are great, best selling books and always will be. But books are not soap – for more on this  read the comments here from lifetwicetasted…


So how NOT to write the book that makes you millionsmistake number 3 – I do not draw up a marketing plan before I start! I do not know before I even finish my book who I am going to sell it to and how – big mistake!!!