A Love Affair with France

Francophile that I am, I’m delighted to welcome author of Paris Mon Amour and host of, On The Literary Sofa, Isabel Costello to the blog.

Here’s Isabel  talking about her lifelong love affair with with France, followed by my review of her debut novel Paris Mon Amour ~ isabel-costello-headshot

Since the publication of my debut novel Paris Mon Amour, I am often asked about my love of France and the French language.  It’s a long story that began years before I was born, and it has many chapters.

In 1950, my mother was a 16-year-old schoolgirl, the eldest of six (later seven) children from a working class family. To encourage her gift for languages, the nuns at her convent school used their connections to arrange for her to stay with a family in France who had a daughter of the same age. That girl became my mum’s friend for life, and in due course, my godmother – I am named after her.  Isabelle’s two daughters are my oldest friends and the bond between our families – now spanning three generations – set the course of my mother’s future and mine.

In many ways, I am something of a hybrid.  My upbringing held no social or financial advantages but it provided me with something far more precious: education and opportunities which extended my horizons.  My mum became a French teacher after studying at Bristol and the Sorbonne and as my dad was a self-employed lorry driver we were able to take off to France every summer. Continue reading

Sometimes A River Song, Now Available

Great News! Happy Days! Sometimes A River Song, is NOW available in paperback from Linen Press HERE

On Amazon Kindle HERE


‘… one of the most moving books I’ve read in a long time.  The narrative itself is song-like in the way the prose moves.  It reminded me initially of Eimear McBride’s ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’, mainly because the narrative voice of the girl is so distinctive and haunting…definitely her best.’ Kathleen Jones (Read more here)


We Are Called To Rise – Laura McBride

We Are Called to Rise is one of those books that demand to be read all in one go. Once I started there was no stopping. I barely came up for air. It was compelling and engaging from the very first page – I guess it helped that Avis, a woman of a certain age, rooting in her sexy underwear draw, comes up with a gun.

18271235But this novel is about much more than Avis, her underwear or guns. It is about three lives, three families colliding, bound together by a mistake made in a just a split second. It is about the fate of a clever, sensitive child.

So why did I love We Are Called to Rise, so much? Here are some of the reasons:
It’s rooted in place, in Las Vegas, the author’s home town, the town it would be impossible for me to know from any tourist guide or holiday visit. Mc Bride shows us what this desert place is really like for the people who grow up there, who live there. We feel the heat and the dust.

Continue reading

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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At Least 5 Reasons to Read, Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro

still-writingOne of those rare books that is both beautiful and useful. Still Writing is an exploration of the writing life, lit up by Shapiro’s luminous voice. Susan Orlean

Every now and again it’s possible to unearth a treasure.

I thought I’d bought and read most of the good and important books on writing but I hadn’t reckoned with Still Writing, by Dani Schapiro.

Still Writing arrived in the post this week and I read it in a day, refusing to put it down, apart from to make coffee and grab a sandwich. It was published in 2013. How had I missed it?

From page I was captivated and inspired and couldn’t resist taking out my pencil and underlining almost everything (after a while I had to be more selective.)

So why is it so good and why should you own a copy? (And no, I’m not on commission) Here are 5 reasons – if pushed I could come up with 50.

• Because she writes with love and passion but with the understanding of what it is to be a writer and the difficulties that brings.
• Because she talks of courage, endurance, rejection, the inner critic, the blank page, the big idea (a myth?), envy, beginnings, middles, ends and so much more.
• Because she is honest and she puts herself on every page.
• Because she makes me smile – as in ‘The Short Bad Book,’ a great approach to the writer’s fear of failure and how having too much at stake can interfere with our writing.
• Because its full of her hard-earned wisdom, it is entirely human, because there’s much to learn here and much comfort to be found. (4 reasons in one)


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… :)

Ten Things I Loved About Fictions of Every Kind

On Tuesday I read at a Fictions of Every Kind Evening in Leeds – it was a great night – here are just 10 things I loved about it


1.The uber cool venue – Wharf Chambers ‘arguably Leeds’ most ‘underground’ bar!’ (Justin R) It’s in Wharf Street off Kirkgate which contains the only surviving remains of medieval Leeds.

lamp2.The vintage standard lamp and shade you stand next to when you read.

3.The democracy of the open mic – there were some great and brave readings (it takes guts to get up there) – my personal favourite was Finn’s. Great to talk with her too.

4.Meeting the lovely and talented writer Zoe Lambert and likewise writer and organiser S J Bradley

5.The encouragement cards and pens on elastic, for open mic readers – ‘Do what you love…Don’t listen to anybody else who tells you not to do it’ ‘You don’t learn to write in College,’ Ray Bradbury.

6. These Men – the brilliant and amusing acappella band. Check them out HERE.

7. Going with my daughter and her partner – they live and works in Leeds, so a night out with them is a real treat.

8. Reading to a truly appreciative audience – it’s always a buzz, and this was no exception.

9. Talking to Dulcie and her mum – I really enjoyed being around so many young people who are so serious about writing and love it so much.

10. The crowd – back to Justin R here: ‘the crowd can get a bit ‘hippyish’ at times; full of anarchists, vegans, ageing hippies, poets, underground artists, socialists, etc.’

My kind of place – thanks so much for having me. And of course I should have added, it all happened here in the NORTH!

Fictions of Every Kind – Tues April 14th

This Tuesday – April 14th –  I’m reading,  at Fictions of Every Kind  in Leeds, along with writer  Zoe Lambert, and there’s also an open mic. It goes without saying I would love to see you there if you can make it.

Organiser of this non-profit, literary & artistic social, author Sarah Bradley, says: ‘Fictions of Every Kind is a quarterly DIY writers’ night based in Leeds. It has been running for 2 years now and is run by a small group of writers, including myself. Our aim is to provide support and encouragement to anyone involved in the lonely act of writing.’

The theme of the evening is ‘relativity,’ (I had to think hard about that one! But I’ve written a story especially for the evening which goes back to my prison days). I’ve really enjoyed doing it and it’s made me a think a lot about the importance of reading our work aloud to see how it’s working.

I’ve written about this in my weekly newsletter for writers -which you can sign up for on the right or HERE. The list continues to grow, so we are quite a community now, and I’m just writing newsletter 118!

Here is what Fictions of Every Kind have to say about the event

‘Fictions Of Every Kind: Relativity Tuesday April 14th, Wharf Chambers, 23-25 Wharf Street, Leeds (£3 in, 7:30 start) 

 Boy oh boy, oh Wowzers Trousers, Oh E=MC2, do we have an event for you!

Our April event is themed “relativity”. Whether this means to you warring parents, the passage of time, or the relativeness of things, you can be sure our two invited speakers have a couple of interesting things to say about it. (This even will be hosted by Claire, Jenna, and Sarah.)

 Our two invited speakers are:

ZOE LAMBERT Zoe is a short story writer and almost novelist. Her collection, the War Tour, was published in 2012, and her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Her latest is Beta-Life, by Comma Press. She is currently working on her novel, That Quiet Longing, and she lectures at the University of Lancaster. www.zoelambert.com

AVRIL JOY was born in Somerset, the setting for her first novel, The Sweet Track. Her short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies, including Victoria Hislop’s, The Story: Love, Loss and the Lives of Women: 100 Great Short Stories. She has been shortlisted for a number of prizes including The Bridport, The Manchester Prize for Fiction, and in 2012 she won the inaugural Costa Short Story Aware. Her collection of stories, Millie and Bird, Tales of Paradise, is published in 2015 by Iron Press.’

So, I’m really looking forward to Tuesday, tried out my story on my partner this morning and he gave it the thumbs up so that helps and my daughter lives in Leeds so I’m looking forward to seeing her too.

See you there…

15 Things We Should Stop Doing as Writers

Here are 15 things I believe we should stop doing as writers, especially if we want to reach our true creative potential and enjoy what we do. I confess I’ve done them all and there are still times when I have to remind myself not to fall back into the bad, old ways…

1. Doubting Ourselves –some doubt can be good, the kind of doubt that asks is this chapter working, can I improve it, does the writing flow, will my character come alive for the reader etc. etc.? This kind of doubt helps us to become better writers.
The doubt I’m referring to is that crippling, ‘I’m no good,’ ‘this is hopeless,’ kind of doubt, the kind that stops us writing in the first place. I think most of us experience doubt like this from time to time and it’s tricky to deal with but when I experience it I ask myself what’s the bottom line? Am I prepared to give up this thing I love called writing? The answer always comes back no and so there is nothing for it but to carry on. The only way I know to banish this doubt is to write on and to cultivate self- belief.

If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced. – Vincent van Gogh

2. Comparing ourselves to fellow writers – it’s easy to look at other writers, especially if they are gaining recognition or success, and compare ourselves to them. Envy creeps in, we’re bound to feel it, we end up either trying to find fault with their writing or finding fault with ourselves. Either way this is no good for our writing. When I feel like this I try to accept and acknowledge my feelings, after all it’s pointless denying them, and then I find something really good, something genuine, to say about my fellow writer. And then I write on. Comparisons are odious, no two writers are alike we each have our own unique voice.


Cafe Plaza Agde – my notebook and pen.


3. Worrying about the market – you can worry and think all day about what’s selling right now, about what agents and editors are looking for, about what will be the next big trend but this won’t improve your writing. My experience of trying to write for agents and changing things for potential publishers (different if you actually have a publisher) led me nowhere other than away from what I loved doing into a world of angst and second guessing and ultimately rejection. So I say write what you love, because at least that way you are true to yourself and you have pleasure and satisfaction in what you do.

4. Putting all our eggs in one basket – pinning all our hopes on one poem, one story, one novel is like loading an only child with expectation that may be impossible to live up to. Fine to re-enter what we think is a good story for any number of competitions over time but in the meantime we must keep writing. It is only through writing that we become better writers and with something new on the go it’s easier to forget about not winning the competition or not securing an agent. Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. ‘Good for you,’ he said without looking up. ‘Start the next one today.’ ― Steven Pressfield

5. Complaining –we all like to complain sometimes about how difficult the world of publishing is. But it’s a mistake to get mired in this world of complaining. Complaining breeds negativity, wallowing in negativity is not in the least creative and will do nothing for our writing. In fact it may make us stop altogether. One of things I did when I was unable to get my second novel The Orchid House published was publish it myself. We have that opportunity now, we are no longer totally at the mercy of the publishing house. We can be positive and pro-active.

6. Allow people to cut into our precious writing time – too many people do not see a writer writing as work. They think we have lots of free time to do many other things: the chores, the things on their agenda, social events etc – but we are working and we need to say so. In the past I’ve told white lies and invented deadlines that didn’t exist but now when I find my time being eroded in this way I take my diary, pencil in writing days and say quite clearly –I’m afraid I can’t I’m working that day, that week. End of story.

7. Drinking too much tea and coffee, especially when we’re at the computer is not good for us, we should be drinking water instead – seriously it helps a lot to have a big glass of water to hand and to replenish it frequently. Your brain needs water – ‘Lack of water to the brain can cause numerous symptoms including problems with focus, memory, brain fatigue and brain fog, as well as headaches, sleep issues, anger, depression, and many more.’ Merlin Hearn. If you don’t believe me read more HERE


The cafe Commerce in Agde – a great place for writing

8. Excusing ourselves from reading – I often hear writers say they’re too busy writing to read. But reading is fuel to our fiction and we must read and we should read contemporary fiction at least some of the time else we risk becoming too isolated and out of touch, out of fuel and too absorbed in our own writing world. ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’― Stephen King

9. Wasting time on social media when we should be writing – I’ve done it, we’ve all done it, spent precious time trawling through Twitter or Facebook, Pinterest etc. instead of getting down to work. One writer I know resolves this problem by writing in a room on a machine with no internet connection. Going out of the house can help with this but in these days of free Wifi it’s only a partial solution, rationing is another. There are no easy solutions but I like to remind myself that an hour of writing makes me feel so much better than an hour on Twitter.

10. Holding on to our fears – as writers we often hold back on what we put on the page. It’s important to think about what we would write if we thought no one was going to read it or no one was going to criticise it – it’s here that the greatest originality and truth of our writing lies. So I say feel the fear and write it anyway. There is nothing that we cannot do as writers. I am currently writing about Arkansas in 1930 in the voice a woman I could never have met. Several years ago I would not have contemplated this. I still think it’s risky but I know it’s time to stop dwelling in the comfort zone.

11. Physically torturing ourselves at the computer – writing can be tough on the hands, back, neck, eyes etc. Long periods at the computer are not always good for our health. We need to take frequent breaks, use ergonomic keyboards, lumber rolls and everything that’s out there to prevent us seizing up. For help and advice on this take a look here.

12. Giving up – all the best writers suffer rejection, for some the rejections run into double figures but nonetheless they persist. So while we are busy writing the next thing, we should still persist in our attempts to find an agent, or a home for our latest story, a publisher for our novel. Take Eimear Mc Bride: McBride wrote A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing in just six months, but it took nine years to get it published. Galley Beggar Press of Norwich, finally picked it up in 2013. In 2014 it won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I need to remind myself of this more – I know sometimes I give up too easily. I guess that’s fear of rejection but rejection comes with the writing territory and we need to thicken our skins and start believing I ourselves. For some of us ignoring our fear of rejection is the very first step to writing the very first page.

One particular road to self-belief and finding the courage to become vulnerable and daring in our lives can be found here with Brene Brown


13. Working in isolation – writing is a solitary activity but there are great benefits from going out into the world and working with others. If we only spend time in our ivory towers we fall out of touch with people, with life and the world we are writing about. Out there in the world so many ideas lie in waiting, so many other creative people exist, whose ideas can enrich and inspire ours. Taking a poetry workshop with established poets – well outside my comfort zone – led me to a new place in my writing and directly to the success of my story Millie and Bird, inspired in turn by a painting. I’m currently looking forward to running a series of workshops with war veterans – I will meet new people and I know it will influence my writing.

14. Feeling failures, thinking we’re imposters – just because we are not on a longlist, shortlist or any other kind of list, bestseller or otherwise we should not judge ourselves or others as failures. Lots of writers I meet will not call themselves writers because they say, ‘I haven’t been published.’ Not being published does not mean we are not a writer, it does not mean we are failures or imposters. When we write seriously and with intent we are writers whatever anyone else says. There’s only one difference between published and unpublished writers and it is this – the first group see their work in print on the shelves of Waterstone’s or Tesco or online at Amazon; the second group are yet to have physical evidence of the hours, weeks, years spent fashioning words into their patterns. You are already a writer. Kate Mosse

15. Taking life so seriously – I know I’m guilty of this. I’m a very serious person and I think writers often are but I know it’s important sometimes not to take ourselves and what we do too seriously. It’s important to have fun, to live as well as just write. Living life enhances the writing. So go out, shop, dance, sing, fall in love, eat cake, drink wine, share what you’ve learned, help other writers, find the wildest, comfiest or weirdest place to write. Get away from the machine, buy a notebook and pen ( surely we are not writers without these) sit in cafes or bars, take a holiday, observe the world through dark glasses and whatever you do WRITE.