8 Ways to Meet the Blank Page

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAEach time I think of writing a new story it feels to me like I’m beginning all over again. I’m not of course, I’ve learned a lot through writing a lot, but I still get that feeling that maybe I have nothing more to say, that I won’t have an idea or I won’t find another story to tell. Some writers call this writers’ block or fear of the blank page. I’m not sure it’s either. I think it’s more like the between books phase that Danni Shapiro describes here in Still Writing

‘When I’m between books, I feel as if I will never have another story to tell. The last book has wiped me out, has taken everything from me, everything I understand and feel and know and remember, and…that’s it. There’s nothing left. A low level depression sets in. The world hides its gifts from me…’

Shapiro goes on to say that she now recognises this feeling as that of, ‘the well being empty.’ We are depleted, everything is spent and so we must re-group and wait. All we can do is show up to the notebook and the page and wait for the toe-hold; the way into something new. In the meantime we need to find ways of filling our well. Here are 8 ideas that just might help:

  1. Go on a Julia Cameron style ‘Artist’s Date,’ – romance yourself, spend the day somewhere inspiring, visit galleries, exhibitions, go listen to music, take a day trip out, haunt cafes, gardens – go with your notebook and just enjoy and observe.

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10 Tips for Writing a Good Scene

photo-alvaro-novo-n-62I don’t know about you but I tend to think in scenes when I’m working on longer fiction – ‘the what happens next, where does it take place and who is involved?’ question.
I try to see the scene play out in my head – due I’m sure to the influence of film and television, at least I do this for the beginning of the scene, then I write it and see what happens. Sometimes it surprises me.
So how can we make sure our scenes are powerful and move the action forward. What makes a good scene in writing? Here are 10 things to consider

1. A scene must have a setting where the action takes place and it’s the setting that will often give us the opportunity to create the mood or atmosphere e.g. in my current work I’ve just written a scene set in the first snow of winter when my young protagonist hears the men out with their guns, hunting deer. There is blood on the snow etc. the mood is tense and dangerous and this signals the danger for her that lies ahead.

2.As well as happening somewhere a scene happens in time – a writer’s job is to move characters through time and space. Our readers should be in no doubt as to when the scene is happening, so that the sequence of events is clear. It can be quite simply done eg ‘When Johnson woke the next morning…’

3. By the end of each scene the reader should know more about the characters in it. Scenes are never superfluous. They exist to show characters, reveal motivations. They provide information about plot. They move your story forward. If a scene adds nothing to our knowledge of character or conflict, or forward movement of the story then it doesn’t need to be there.

4.Scenes are best begun in action and not exposition. ‘The scene begins when the blue touch paper has already been lit not on the trip to the firework shop.’ Robert Graham. Don’t forget that scenes can also begin with dialogue, which is a very immediate way to get into a scene.

5. The scene itself, like the chapter, like the whole, has a beginning, middle and end, and as such it has a rising arc of tension leading to a point of climax. Some scenes will of course be less dramatic than others but that doesn’t rule out creating narrative tension in smaller ways.

6.Narrative tension can be signalled in our writing – shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs and dialogue all add pace.

7.This tension is led by the conflict our characters experience. We ask ourselves – What is their goal? What is standing in their way? Eg. in my scene in the snow (mentioned above) my protagonist’s goal, stated from the very beginning of the novel, is to learn to read, it drives everything she does. The scene begins with her going through the snow to the woman who is secretly helping her. But towards the end of the scene when she arrives back late her secret is uncovered – there is a reversal in her fortune, new obstacles in her way. The scene starts with a plus moves to a minus but at the very end there’s a surprise.

8. A good way to end a scene can be with a surprise or a hook that will keep the reader reading on to find out what happens (used widely in crime fiction)

9.The opening scene of our novel is arguably the most important – it deserves special attention as it’s our chance to hook the reader. In looking at our opening scene we should ask, will this pull the reader in, will they want more?

10. If in doubt think film.

This first appeared on my blog in April 2015

Writing Workshop with Forward Assist

It’s a while now since I was involved in running any kind of writing workshop, so it’s been easy to forget just how much I enjoy workshops and all the talking and writing, and hopefully inspiring, that goes on.

Yesterday in Clayport Library, Durham, was a great reminder of what I’ve been missing. It was the first of a series of six writing workshops with Veterans, hosted by Forward Assist and led by myself and Lifetwicetasted. It was a full house, in more ways than one: full of people – the room was only just big enough, full of commitment – people had come from as far off as Richmond and Leeds – full of enthusiasm, attention and of goodwill. And then there was the writing! Full of promise, some really unique voices. I never cease to be bowled over by what people write and how willing they are to share it.  The read round was simply brilliant. Huge thanks to all who came for making it such a success. I’m looking forward very much to next week.


Hunky Dory

hunky dory

1972, the University of East Anglia – a friend is renting an old manse in the depths of the east anglian countryside for the summer term. We set off to visit him, drive through that wide-skied, flat landscape, the corn grown high around us and it feels like an adventure, like all these days feel, something special to a girl who’s been kept in a lot. Life is changing. The manse stands alone in the fields, nothing for miles. Our friend is waiting with ‘refreshments,’ and a copy of yes, you’ve guessed it, Hunky Dory. In a manse in the wild you can play the music as loud as you want. And we did…

9 Writing Competitions and Opportunities

Thanks to one and all for your lovely messages about Sometimes a River Song, and to anyone doubting themselves out there (because I know that’s what we writers do) I would say that while I hope I have some talent for writing and a lifetime of reading to bring to the table, getting published is mainly the result of hard work and perseverance. I’ve had plenty of rejections. So please, keep on keeping on…

Now, here is a round up of 7 opportunities from today’s weekly newsletter. If you would like it to land in your mailbox every Monday you can sign up for it her

1.From the Scottish Booktrust, The 50-Word Fiction Competition – ‘Can you write a story in just 50 words? Each month we’ll provide a prompt to get you started, but where the story goes from there is entirely up to you.The competition includes two categories, All-Age and Young Writers (under the age of 18). All stories will be judged by the same panel and both winning stories will be published on our website. A prize will be awarded to a writer in each category: Need some inspiration or tips? Read our 50 Word Fiction blogs and check out Sophie Cooke’s 5 Things for Writing A Short Story. MORE HERE

2. Don’t forget the Bristol Prize – ‘The closing date for entries is 30th April 2016. Stories can be on any theme or subject and entry can be made online via the website or by post. Entries must be previously unpublished with a maximum length of 4,000 words. There is no minimum length. There is an entry fee of £8 per story.20 stories will be shortlisted for the first prize and published in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 9. 1st Prize is £1,000, 2nd Prize £700, 3rd Prize £400. 17 further prizes of £100 will be presented to the writers whose stories appear on the shortlist.  MORE HERE

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Sometimes A River Song – Linen Press

I’m delighted to tell you that my new novel Sometimes A River Song, is to be published by Linen Press in the Spring. From our work together to date, I find I am full of admiration for Linen Press. Their commitment to publishing women is awesome as is my editor Lynn Michell, who was highly commended in this year’s Women in Publishing Awards. Much more on the story soon but now, back to editing…

See their announcement on Facebook

Announcement 2. River Song.




Making Plans for the Writing Year Ahead


I’m thinking a lot about rivers – this one is in the Languedoc

The turn of the year is a great time to make writing plans. I’m aware, of course, that plans made at this time, especially with a glass or two in hand, will not always come to fruition, some may never get off the ground, some will be de-railed, others replaced by newer plans that could not have been anticipated. Opportunities and inspirations are unpredictable but anticipating what may come is not only fun but it’s what shapes our ideas, our new projects and goals.
Here are some questions of the kind I like to ask myself when thinking of the writing year ahead. You might like to use them as prompts for your own plans. I’m a great believer in making plans, it’s how the work gets done. Without plans and goals we are a ship becalmed, we are going nowhere…
What will you do that is…
1. Different
2. Fun
3. Collaborative
4. Gives something back
5. Truly reflects who you are?

If you could write anything (which of course you can) what would it be? Be daring, free yourself up to think outside your own box – e.g. erotic poetry, a novel about being 80, sci-fi, a novel set in Russia 1920, a series of stories about artists…..

What can you learn and where or how can you learn it – workshops, groups, buddies etc – so often these kinds of events or meetings can lead us in a new direction?

What plans will be carried over and how can you make the most of these? Have you made targets for finish dates?

What’s your priority?

How can you measure success other than in publications or competitions?

How can you celebrate your writing life? Start a blog? Plan away days, self- publish, go to open mikes, buy brilliant and beautiful notebooks, attend festivals, make an inventory of all you’ve done in the past year…

How can you share with and support other writers? Writing can be a lonely occupation…

Where can you find inspiration: the theatre, music, exhibitions, walks, gardens? Make a list.

What will you read? Writers need reading every bit as much as writing…

Good luck with your plans – and lots of writing fun in 2016

Who Says Writers are Selfish?

I’m in desperate need of a haircut, could do with a shower, haven’t been seen out of my jogging bottoms and woolly jumper for days and I’ve barely left the house, which needs cleaning, except for an hour when I got caught in snow and had to abandon my car. As I suspected, it’s just safer not to leave home.

All but the essential things, such as eating and sleeping have been consigned to the bin. Living a normal life with normal rhythms right now is impossible.

As for Christmas,I was starting to panic, really panic, and then I read   Lola Borg’s Confessions of a Christmas Underachiever, in the Telegraph on embracing the imperfect Christmas ( I know, where did I find the time to read?) and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I’m with her one hundred percent on ditching ‘perfect.’

‘Far better,’ she writes, ‘to accept that families – and by extension family events – are meant to be messy, chaotic and unpredictable. Which is surely the best way to approach the entire holiday itself.’  Perhaps the best way to approach life I’m thinking…

So how come I’ve gone into hibernation? No, it’s not because it’s December and I’m missing the heat and light of India which I undoubtedly am (see pic of Udaipur below). It’s because I’ve been working to a deadline (not entirely self-imposed) editing a new draft of my current novel. It’s because I’m selfish enough to put this before most other things. It’s because I’ve embraced the selfishness that comes with being a writer. I’ve followed Danni Shapiro’s advice – ‘Embrace this selfishness, for now.Wrap it around you like a quilt made of air. Let no one inside of it except those you love most…Be a good steward to your gifts.’

The good news is it’s all but done. Or at least past the point of no return when you can’t see the proverbial wood from the trees and you’re ready to consign the lot to the bin (no seriously, never do that with your writing.) Who says writers are selfish? Me. It’s the only way we can get the work done.

lake and palace


Textiles in Rajasthan

sari clothRajasthan is known the world over for its textiles, above is a quilt made from old saris. Below a woman in the town of Bagru prints from ancient wood blocks and the proprieter of the workshop demonstrates the depth of the indigo pit where fabics are dyed



We are not the first visitors to this textile emporium. Richard Gere visited before us and was reputed to have bought 90 pieces. According to the owner they were ‘for his concubines’ !!


The Thar Desert


2015-11-15 03.38.11


We sleep near Osian, on the edge of the Thar desert. Arriving in the dark we are greeted by fire, music and dancing. Later, in our tent, I drift in and out of sleep listening to the night music of temple and train – beyond us lies the Thar Desert, stretching across to Jaisalmer and down to the Rann of Kutch. I think of Robyn Davidson and her book Desert Places and bow down !

In the morning we visit the Jain temples of Osian