Food and Drink

Join us on the Itch of Writing Workshop Retreat 6th-8th June 2014

SORRY! ONLY ONE PLACE LEFT ON THIS COURSE! Click here for more details If you'd like to be added to the mailing list to hear about any cancellations, or future courses, or both, then email me at the address on the right hand side. Writing can be - and maybe should be - stitched into your everyday life. But sometimes a short break, leaving all the quotidian rubbish behind, can free you to think, play, experiment and submerge in a project in a way which is very difficult when your mind is cluttered with the school run and the annual... Read more →


Giving a Reading Part Two - On the Night

This is the second part of a two-part series: click here for Giving a Reading Part One - Getting Ready. (newly expanded 6/2/14) . I've given readings everywhere from a minute basement bookshop space to the Hay Festival, and of course the setup varies wildly, but here are some suggestions of things to think about, for you to pick and chose. If you have a publicist a good deal of the prep will be done for you, and she'll know the answer to a good many of the questions. But it's worth thinking about what you need, and asking her... Read more →


Wives of Tyrants and landing the plane on time: the Harrogate History Festival 2013

As an ex- wannabe-actress, I actively enjoy the performing side of being an author, even if I do need plenty of Piglet-time afterwards before I can get back into writing-mode. So I'm looking forward to providing a Literary Lunchtime at the Ulster Hall in Belfast, on 27th November, and if you can make it, do come and say Hi afterwards. I've never been to Belfast, either, so I also hope I'll get a little time to have a look round. It's always particularly easy and enjoyable when you're slotting into an established structure and venue, as with the Literary Lunchtimes,... Read more →


Five minutes' fun

When I'm talking to aspiring writers, one of the things I often find myself saying is, "Don't underestimate what being published does to your relationship to your writing." Even if you haven't been so foolish as to give up the day job - even if the next book is, or isn't, under contract - even if the way your book launches is bangier, or whimperier, than you could possibly have imagined - going public changes things. It sets up all sorts of complicated stresses about being judged, and the expectations of others, and your expectations of yourself in our Western... Read more →


Death doesn't always become you[r story]

A couple of posts ago, in Nothing but the truth, I found myself saying new writers and unconfident writers, paradoxically, seem to gravitate towards... well at one evening of short fiction readings, nine out of the ten stories read were centrally, chiefly, about death. And competitions sifters say the same. I used to think crossly that it was just a cheap thrill - some instant gravitas - but I'm a slightly nicer person these days. and a blog reader got in touch, because she's neither new nor unconfident, but often writes about death. Is it really such a Bad Idea?... Read more →


Writers Question Time at Frome, and other stories

Just a quick post - because I'm not here, I'm still in Devon - to say that the two events I took part in at the Frome Festival were recorded by Frome's very own Internet readio station, Frome FM, and can be listened to here. Click on Programmes, and they both appear in the list of New Stuff. (If you're reading this after they've dropped off, just click on Programme > Frome Festival > Frome Festival 2011 Live Recordings) . Scroll down the list of programmes a little, then click on the one you want. I will blog at some... Read more →


The Inner Calvinist and the Petrol Pump

I've blogged about procrastination before in terms of the immediate moment, but what's causing it? Why do we fail to get on with the thing we love doing: writing? We've got a lot of our lives arranged around it, and our hopes and self esteem built on it, and if you earn your living as a writer that book you're trying to write underpins everything that pays the rest of the rent. So why is Write so often, actually, Not Write? At least commissioned work has disaster looming if you don't do it, and short work is visibly finite. But... Read more →


Fragments of York: the Festival of Writing 2011

This is going to be a rather fragmentary post because, frankly, I'm feeling rather fragmented. Part of me is still back in York, part is enjoying being home, part is eyeing my desk and a very long list of What Needs Doing, and part of me - okay, most of me - is wondering if the only way to glue them all back together is to go and buy cake. Certainly cake, not drink, not after that Gala Dinner. So here are some fragments that I can hold on to, of what the 2011 York Festival of Writing made me... Read more →


Ice crystals forming

I went away to not-write. One of the things they don't tell you at Hogwriter's College is that once a large part of your mental and financial self is involved with writing, no writing you do can quite escape a price tag of its likely cost or profit in terms of time, career, craft-training or hard cash. And so the pressure to keeping going with your writerly work can be as relentless as the pressure once was to put it away, and go to office parties or wipe toddlers' noses. But for the first time in a very long time,... Read more →


The common scaffold

So my agent was sitting on a delayed bus into work, and I was walking along a long and snowy road in lieu of spending half an hour digging my car out, and we were on the phone discussing the latest version of my new novel. Basically she loves it, and thinks it's very nearly ready to fly: she awarded the ending three hankies and we've settled on a great title. She even spontaneously suggested something for the ending which I'd wanted to do all along but hadn't dared. Her only reservations were about some of the new material. I've... Read more →


Only a proof of the splendour

The signs to have your formal graduation portrait taken were at least as large as those for the graduands' check-in and for collecting robes, and more colourful. I had an hour to go till the ceremony and you don't have to pay unless you order one. The people in front of me were being slotted one after another into six units of the franchised formula, first alone, then with family, then "next please". Standard lighting setup, friendly and efficient ladies, camera with leads to lights and laptop, a slap-it-down rubber circle where you stand, complete with extra white line at... Read more →


Feeding the hunger

When someone asks me what I do, and I say I'm a writer, they're usually mildly interested. When we've established that I'm not a journalist but write novels, they're slightly taken aback and slightly impressed, and though of course that's slightly gratifying, I still find it more than slightly odd. The thing is, while I recognise that not everyone wants to or can sit down and write novels for as long as it takes to learn how to do it, telling stories is obviously as fundamental a part of human nature as bringing up children, or hunting and gathering, or... Read more →


Writing for radio part 1: the call

A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a radio producer who I'd sent some work to - the same producer who commissioned Kellie Jackson's story last year, which Kellie guest-blogged about here. This producer is commissioning a series of three stories from writers new to radio, and would I be interested in writing one of them? As so often, the timing was quite tight, with the recording due at the end of June, for transmission in early August. And as it's part of a set of three the location and theme were set. We talked on the... Read more →


As if we'd been there

In A New Use for an Old Christmas Tree I was thinking of how I'd explain, to someone who doesn't understand, how I can be celebrating that the work-in-progress is finished, when it isn't finished. And the more I thought about the image of having built a house, the more I found that the 'snag-list' metaphor fits beautifully. I have two friends who routinely use the phrase: one is an architect, and as I said before, I realise that what I've done is build the house. It exists, standing four-square on the ground, with walls and roof, foundations and floors,... Read more →


Snowstorms and straws in the wind

Like the rest of the self-employed, I spent too much of last week doing my tax return for 2008-2009. It's obvious that it's a boring, fiddly job, and almost always in the cause of discovering that you owe them rather more money than you've managed to put by. (Though tax law for writers has some very odd corners, and it's worth poking your nose into them, because it can save you a lot of money, in the future if not now. The Society of Authors has leaflets for all to buy, and a free tax helpline for members). It's very... Read more →


Clothes and food and dropping presents

One of the Chapter Titles - one of the Big Issues - in the how-to-write books and courses and seminars is Characterisation, and I'm putting capitals all over the place because that's how it feels that aspiring writers talk about it. Whereas when agents and editors and experienced writers talk about it, they just say, 'I love the characters.' And having written that first sentence as a run-in to what I really want to say, I'm realising that it's the abstraction of the idea of characterisation which is daunting for beginner writers, not the process. After all, thinking about how... Read more →


The tree of life - and other anecdotes

I've been a tad busy this last few days, so I'm afraid this is a bit of a catch-up post. First, I've actually submitted my PhD! I can't quite believe how happy it's made me, not just because the last stages of a research project are notoriously fiddly and tedious and so I've been dying to get rid of it, but because, finally, I realise that I'm actually really quite proud of it. As well as A Secret Alchemy, which I can enjoy again now that the tooth-pulling process of writing it has faded from my memory, I do think... Read more →


The second simplicity of a bowl of cherries

One of the classically irritating things non-writers say to us is "I've always wanted to write a novel, I just need the the time to sit down." Once we're out on bail, most writers still burn to explain that just sitting down isn't all it takes to write a novel. It takes hard work, craft, imagination, a lot of thinking, a lot of reading, learning, practising, and more sitting down than most people would believe possible. It's also frequently frustrating: some days/weeks/years the words come about as readily as wisdom teeth pull out, and I'm sure I'm not the only... Read more →


Whores, dishes and crackly feedback

A while ago a US writer said that if you allow any thought of the market to affect your writing, then you're not a writer, you're a whore (and the comment made me so cross that I'm not going to try to find dates or names). And now I see that my post The Market for Ropes has been picked up as expressing my strong views about writing for the market. Well, I do have strong views about lots of things, but that wasn't quite what I was getting at in that post. What I was trying to express there... Read more →


The Jung of Pooh and Piglet

So I've spend a fair few days celebrating the fact that, in the week of 20th April, A Secret Alchemy was the fourteenth bestselling paperback fiction in the UK. Serious celebration, it's been, to top off the pleasure of seeing stacks of it next to The Times it in every W H Smith in the country. Even my agent, who has seen just about every variety of success and disaster the book trade can create, is very, very pleased. And all for that 'difficult' second novel, which has also just had its first advance review for the American incarnation, in... Read more →