Getting Back to Writing After a Break



Flowers as arranged by Gillian

Flowers as arranged by Gillian

As you may know I’ve done very little fresh writing of late, this being due to my daughter’s impending wedding and all the work that a wedding entails. Well the great day is now past! Thank you so much for all your good wishes – we had a lovely, memorable day with family and friends – no disasters and lots of fun, so now it’s time to get back to the writing.
I’ve been looking forward very much to getting back to what I do but I have to admit that I wonder quite where and how it will happen…

Getting back to writing after a break of some kind, even after a summer holiday can sometimes be difficult. After all writing is hard, we may love it but it’s still hard work, possibly the hardest thing we do and it demands that we give a great deal of ourselves as well as of our time.

When we’re in the habit of not writing it can be easy to find distractions: emails that must be sent, business to attend to, people to meet, books to read, blogs to write, etc. etc. We can persuade ourselves that this is writing and in doing so we can avoid the real work.

If there’s a novel waiting then at least we know what we have to get back to and in this case I think it’s mostly a question of setting a date, then: Day 1 opening the file and reading, Day2 Editing what’s there so far (you may want to do this DAY1 as you read, Day 3 Writing on.

This process of re-acquainting ourselves with our work is key to starting afresh after a break. But what if there is no novel waiting? Here are 7 ways to help you get writing after a break: but firstly take your diary and pencil in a writing day, evening, or a few hours, whatever time you have when you know you will not be interrupted

1. Read something you’ve written, maybe the best thing – remind yourself you are a writer.
2. Find a past notebook, open it and read – discover something fresh, something you’d forgotten, the beginning of a poem, a note, an idea and develop it into a poem/ short piece/ story etc
3. On a fresh page in your notebook finish this sentence: If I could write anything it would be…………..(eg. If I could write anything it would be a novella about imprisonment, a story set in on a Greek island, an historical novel set in the American civil war…) There may be more than one thing you want to write – write them all down and mull them over. In downtime listen to the radio, go for a walk, daydream, while thinking about these.

4. Read something inspiring by someone else – your favourite novel/short story, the one you wish you’d written. Be inspired. Write a paragraph or two in the same style about one of your ideas from number 3.
5. Find a competition you think worth entering or a magazine to submit to and as well as deciding to edit something you already have, write something new.
6. Don’t get hung up on perfection, start small, use the freedom of the notebook in which you can just scribble away – sometimes getting away from the machine is key.
7. Go find a café or a favourite spot and write there, this way writing is a treat not a task. Enjoy.

Now it just remains for me to take my own advice……………..

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No Time For Writing


Drying homemade confetti – some I made earlier!

My house is rapidly filling with bunting and bridesmaids dresses, sparkly shoes, orders of service, confetti, and a hundred to do lists, also a somewhat nervous bride and mother of the bride!

There is really no time for writing but I have an idea brewing, a story or perhaps a novel or maybe a novella and for once I’m taking Rose Tremain’s advice and allowing myself to ‘dream’ it  ‘into being.’  Holding off can be a good thing.

Here are Rose Tremains 10 rules for writers as published in The Guardian – in my book it’s up there with the very best of advice for writers

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Stealing the Day – Finding Time to Write


Window in my writing room

On Friday I stole the day. Life is very busy. It’s less than three weeks to my daughter’s wedding and there’s lots to do and lots happening and it’s all lovely but towards the end of  the week I just didn’t feel right. I was in a restless, grumpy mood, the kind of mood that comes on me when I don’t find the time to write, especially when there’s an unfinished story that’s not quite working nagging away in my head.

I told myself relax, I’d given myself a holiday from writing and anyway how could I write with a room like a tip and other things to do? It didn’t work. The only answer was to somehow find the time to write. This is how I did it.

1. Got up early

2. Took out my diary, made a schedule for everything that needed doing – leaving the whole of the day blank – apart from two phone calls which had to be made.

3. Made the phone calls.

4. Took the polish and duster to my desk and tidied up ( NOT major cleaning just 5-10 mins)

5. Picked some sweet peas from the garden and put them in my room, made myself a cup of tea and toast, sat for 5 mins enjoying the flowers and my breakfast.

6. Opened my notebook and the machine avoiding e mail and Twitter

7. Told myself to let the story write  itself  and BEGAN – by 4 pm I felt much better and my story was finished.

It worked, I found the time to write. I stole the day.Sometimes we can’t come to writing cold. We need to give ourselves permission and we need a ritual or two to start preparing ourselves. I know what rituals work for me. How about you?

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Gardening and Writing About Sex

This week – starting Monday 14th July – my novel The Orchid House is on a Kindle Countdown deal – which means it’s available at a discounted price. If you haven’t read it – now might be the time, but be warned it is sexually explicit.

For my thoughts on writing about sex you might like to read this previous post  which attracted a good deal of interest first time around. Perhaps that’s not surprising, after all, writing about sex is one of the hardest things a writer does.


Sweet peas in my garden

If you love romantic fiction with a darker undertow, gardening and garden history then the Orchid House will please you. There’s a lot of (very good) sex in the book too – and it takes real talent to write about sex well. Gardening, when you think about it, is all about sex – breeding plants, fertilising seeds, earth, nurturing fruit and flower. I have to say that this is one of the most erotic novels I’ve read for a while. From the steamy tropical ambience of Sri Lanka to the hot-houses of Trescombe in England, the reader is treated to sensual prose unfolding a plot that is both tragic and compelling.- Writer, Poet and Biographer Kathleen Jones

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The High Concept Novel

I’m clearly behind the times because the term ‘high concept’ has only just crept into my vocabulary although I’ve been very aware of the kind of novels that currently make it into the world of publishing and those that don’t.

At  the weekend I had a fascinating conversation with a writer friend who is developing a film script from a novella – after all ‘high concept’ has its origins in the movie world – and who explained to me some of the buzzwords which accompany ‘high concept,’ like hook and logline. Then yesterday I read  a great piece  by Lesley McDowell literary critic for The Herald, The Scotsman and The Independent on Sunday, and author of  Between the Sheets: Nine 20th Century Women Writers and their Famous Literary Partnerships, which set me off on the trail of ‘high concept’ again. I share her reservations and find myself disliking this approach to the novel which puts market before writing and assumes we all want to read the same kind of things. But if you’re itching to published, and who isn’t? Then I guess it’s worth considering…

If like me you  are new to ‘high concept’ and wondering what it’s all about then this article The Seven Qualities of a High Concept Novel signposted by Lesley in her piece will explain all.

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Pablo’s Garden


Pablo’s Garden

Today rain threatened and it finally came to my garden at least in the form of hailstones battering the roses and philadelphous. But that was past six in the evening. Thankfully the day had remained fine until then, even sunny in parts, for the Yellow Book opening of Pablo’s Garden.  I know that Gillian who keeps the garden is an expert and devoted gardener but I still find myself in awe of what she has achieved: the garden in all it’s parts, its sunny and shady borders filled with flowers, the stumpery, the rose bed, the path lined with giant ferns, quiet places to sit and contemplate, a summerhouse with books and cats, a greenhouse bursting with tomatoes, flowers inhabiting every nook and cranny – such loving detail can only be achieved by a true, patient and inspirational gardener. There was tea of course and wonderful cakes and second hand books. I am now the delighted new owner of The Penguin Book of Garden Writing. Gardens are inspiring places. I came away wanting to write and reminded of  my grandmother’s garden. If you’d like to read my piece about that garden you can find it here

In my newsletter this week – how to give your imagination free rein – just email me if you’d like to receive it.

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icumen Chapbook- LiteralFish


My mother often said it: Summer is icumen in. It was for hope, for cheerfulness, for washing on the line – Gillian Allnutt

Yesterday evening I went with friends to the Lit&Phil Library in Newcastle (a very special place) for the launch of poet  Gillian Allnutt’s chapbook icumen. The chapbook is published by the intriguing LiteralFish  and to my mind it’s a thing of great beauty. I love chapbooks when they’re designed as this one is: elegant, monochrome, a plethora of white space and sparse text, and the poems themselves – described by David Almond as ‘a kind of intense birdsong…’ -words from a true and uncompromising poet of national standing.

Birdsong also featured  in the haunting and beautiful soundscape inspired by icumen and written and performed by artist Helen Collard.

I’m looking forward very much to seeing what LiteralFish do next and looking forward perhaps to a new poetry workshop run by Gillian…hint hint


The cover design is by Melanie Ashby

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Five Lit Magazines that Welcome Story Submissions

There’s nothing like seeing your stories in print so what’s stopping you? Here are 5 Lit magazines you can submit to and there are many more out there…

Brittle Star welcomes submissions of unpublished, original work in the following categories: Poetry: 1 – 4 poems. Literary short fiction: 1 – 2 stories up to 2000 words (double-line spaced) Submissions are by post only.

‘For almost fifteen years, Brittle Star has been publishing scintillating poems and short stories from new and early-career writers, many of whom have seen their work in print for the first time. We have a growing reputation for being one of the first ports of call for new writers on the path to publishing their debut collections.’


East of the Web takes submissions of  stories in a variety of genres including: fiction, horror, crime. childrens, humour and non-fiction

‘East of the Web ‘is keen to provide exposure for writers by offering them a place where their work will be seen and read in a high quality, respected setting. The site receives about half a million unique visitors per month, so successful submissions are likely to be viewed by more readers than in almost any other short story publication.’


Structo   – ‘short stories of up to approximately 3,000 words will be considered, both as original stories and as new translations of foreign language texts. We will consider up to two stories per author per issue. We enjoy slipstream in particular when it comes to fiction, but submission of original and unpublished work in any genre is very welcome. The only essential is that your story makes us want to read on.


Stinging Fly   ‘We publish new, previously unpublished work by Irish and international writers. We have a particular interest in promoting the short story. Each issue also includes a mix of poetry, book reviews and essays, alongside occasional author interviews and novel extracts. We also welcome submissions of poetry and prose in translation.


Far Off Places  ‘Submissions are currently open – we’re looking for poetry, prose and drama based around the theme The Second Breakfast.

‘Far Off Places is a young magazine featuring creative writing and illustration which launched in spring 2013. Despite being based in Edinburgh, we spread our loving tentacles over Europe and across the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Our mission in life is to make you laugh, ponder, and wince. We seek stories and poems to twine into a rope thrown from a lifeboat or to build into a yellow brick road.’

Coming soon submitting to popular magazines

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The Orchid House

The Orchid House sells really well on Kindle. It seems popular with readers but I’ve never been happy with the cover so here’s a new one – similar yes, but softer. I couldn’t really avoid the orchid although I thought about the other themes in the book – travelling in Sri Lanka, living in a house in the jungle, a great Cornish garden, a steamy love affair… Orchid house new 2there were lots of possibilities.

Here’s an extract from The Orchid House to give you a flavour of some of the more exotic locations:

On Kovalum beach the women said “Hi Baba, you want mango, massage? You want tablecloth or lace?” The smiling gold-capped, gap-toothed, beauties sat beside us and unravelled their cloth bundles revealing and spreading their precious booty. They stroked the blonde hairs on your arm and looked on admiringly until we said, ‘No Baba, not today’, then they collected everything back up and re-tied their cloths and shamed us with their smiles.

We slept in white rooms with latticed balconies and arches over hung with palms, sharp leaved fronds bending against a blue sky like great feathers on a headdress. Trees shooting from a dry rough husk, filling our open windows, resting on the sills where drongos came looking for crumbs.

On the beach the sea was big and dangerous, it roared through the night and everywhere there were warnings in English and Hindi and everyone told tales of bathers caught in the undertow and dragged out to sea or washed up on the rocks by the red and white lighthouse. But on the beach in southern India where the women smiled you stayed safe. The women kept you safe. Now I can’t think past that other place, that beach and your drowning…




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Five Free Short Story Competitions

If you’re looking to submit your short stories but fed up with paying the fees here are FIVE free opportunitites:

1.  From 1–30 June, 2014, Jonathan Cape will be open for fiction submissions from new writers of high calibre and imagination.

Submissions should be an initial 50 pages of prose fiction. These can be part of a novel or novella, or short stories. The pages can be finished work or a work in progress.

2.    The 2014 Autumn House Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction Contests

3.      The British Fantasy Society short story competition 2014

4.      Utah Original Writing Competition

5.      Liberty, 80th Writer competition



garden 1

My garden – ripe for sitting and writing in…


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