Sunday, 28 December 2014

Not Another New Year's Eve?!

Courtesy of The Telegraph

I love Christmas, but don’t like New Year’s Eve. Why not, you ask? Well, thereby hangs a tale. We never made a fuss of it in my family, so I don’t have fond memories to gild it with nostalgia, or any traditions to cling to. The event began for me in my teens, when the whole kissing at midnight thing could hold sweet promise if someone I wanted to kiss was in the room, or when just snogging lots of people could make me feel popular and successful.

So why do I wish every year that this particular festival would just go away? Sophie Heawood in this Saturday’s Guardian Weekend is spot on about one of its drawbacks:

‘It’s amazing how much pressure you can feel to have a good time on New Year’s Eve, as if the biggest midnight of the year has the power to change you... if only you cheer it in hard enough, with enough love in the room.’

As with holidays and Christmas, absurd expectations can put a strain on our only-human ability to enjoy ourselves at anything close to fever pitch. The extra challenge with New Year’s Eve parties is that, because of the midnight denoument, they can feel very long.  In recent years I have been to really pleasant get-togethers, with plenty of friends and fun, but have looked at my watch at ten o’clock and thought, ‘Really? Two whole hours to go?’ At one, some of us had sobered up and got rather cold as the big countdown neared, and we found ourselves huddling in the kitchen making cups of tea, feeling we had rather failed as revellers.

When my children were little, my husband used to stay up and see the New Year in with a lonely whisky and some rubbish on the TV, because at that time, all I really wanted from life was sleep. The idea of voluntarily being conscious if no one needed a feed or a nappy change was absurd.

In case you’re thinking I have never been any fun, I did have a partying era when I lived in Hong Kong. Life after work often consisted of a pit-stop in a 7-11 to have a stomach-lining hotdog, then off to a bar, or several, to party the night away. As time wore on, San Miguels would fade into trays of shots or ridiculous cocktails, some of which you set fire to before drinking them. Sometimes, I danced on the bar. I don’t think I ever got home before midnight, and at least once I crawled home from a night out and went straight in to work.

New Year at that time was just another party. At one memorable event, we gathered on a friend’s skyscraper rooftop and cheered in 1993, wondering why sirens were mixing with our drunken shouts. It turned out that in nearby Lan Kwai Fong, an area of narrow bar-lined streets, a crowd of 15,000 had turned into a stampede. Police had watched helplessly as people slipped on the beer-slickened street and were trampled in the crush. Dozens were injured and twenty-one died.

You might be wondering if that’s why I don’t like New Year’s Eve. I have to admit that the truth is less dramatic. There was once a teenage party that all my friends were going to, and so were all the boys we fancied. We prepared over days and hours in a fevered dazzle of expectation. When the snogging hour was upon us, the boy I had hoped to get off with got off with one of my friends. I’m afraid it might be the face-slapping disappointment of that moment that soured New Year’s Eve for me forever.

This year I am going to an ourdoor event in riotous Tunbridge Wells with my husband and parents in law. I am keeping my expectations within reasonable bounds, hoping only that there are warm marquees and that no one gets too sleepy. Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Making the Magic Happen

courtesy of

And so as festive busyness gathers pace, I continue my rewrite. Latest reports from my writing mentor insist that I must clear more clutter from my text, working even further to remove the sighs, thumping hearts and glances that are slowing it down.

I think I understand now about backstory: you don’t put it down on the page, but it is a living thing that takes root in your mind. As I remove whatever might not be needed (the musings, the explanations, the characters harking back); my protagonists retain their wholeness for me. Once in a while I am moved by what appears on the screen about them, because their backstories live in my heart. The magic* lies in conveying this to the reader.

I hope that something better is emerging as I prune back to the parts of the story that matter. I have pinned my hopes on this way of working leading to **success, which for me means my writing being good enough to be published.

With that heartwarming thought, I wish everyone reading this a ***peaceful and happy Christmas and all good things in the New Year.

* This ‘magic’ is not available in fairy dust form, and may in fact involve months or years of painstaking work, including wrong turnings, periods of crippling self-doubt and repeated devastating rejection.

** Success is by no means guaranteed.

*** Results may vary according to the temperament of family members, the onset of hyperactivity in children and the incidence of turkey cooking time dilemmas. 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Top 3 Writing Tips to Transform Your Work

We all reach that moment in our writing when we seem to be blurting words into a void, with no idea of whether they are working or not. We peck and nibble away at our prose, wondering if it’s really getting any better.

I had reached that point in revising my novel when a writing mentor saved my life. She has identified with surgical precision what’s working and what isn’t, and what I need to do about it. Here are the top 3 tips that have worked for me:

 1) Keep your villain’s villainy subtle and convincing.

Courtesy of

I had worked hard to make my villain creepy, so that the thriller would be chilling from the start. Worried that he wouldn’t be scary enough, I must have laboured the point, as though trying to whip up a chorus of booing for pantomime villain instead of creating a nuanced, believable character. ‘You’re insistent on telling us what a horrible piece of work he is,’ my mentor wrote. ‘Let the reader sense that, not be hammered over the head with it.’ She liked the scenes in which I showed him as vulnerable. ‘If you write like this, the reader will get that he is damaged and obsessed,’ I learned, ‘without you needing to spell it out as much as you do.’

This tip is working as I rewrite this character, and creating him is a grim joy – after all, we are all fascinated by the evil things people do and what drives them to do it, and a three-dimensional character is always more interesting to write.

2)    Keep the focus on what characters do and say, without always spelling out how they feel.

Courtesy of

It was a new idea to me that I could trust the reader to understand emotions without being spoon-fed them in signposts weighing down the text: ‘her heart sank,’ fear rose in a wave,’ ‘anxiety jangled her frazzled nerves...’ It seemed risky to remove these emotional pointers – what if it made the text bland and hard to interpret? I needn’t have worried – it the clues are there in the context and in the characters’ words and actions, the signposts are not needed – and the writing flows so much better without them.

3)   Don't describe every raised eyebrow, sip of coffee or heavy sigh.

courtesy of

 ‘Ease up on spelling out too much,’ my mentor wrote. ‘It leads you to be repetitive and slows the pace.’ She added, ‘If you’re writing a powerful scene, readers bring something to the party themselves – their imagination. They can picture the lifted eyebrow, the fixed gaze.’

 Looking back over my writing after receiving these comments, I laughed out loud. It was full of raised eyebrows, humphs of annoyance, frowns and above all, fulsome indications of where everyone’s eyes were focused at all times, ‘He looked down. He glanced up. He held her gaze.’ Trimming away most of these details made the prose pacier, and gave power and resonance to the ones left in. If a character holds someone’s gaze now, you had better believe it’s significant!

A single fact I didn’t know before underlies all the top tips noted above – that I can trust the reader. ‘They will get it,’ my mentor assures me patiently, ‘they really will.’ Readers bring their imagination to the party. Who knew that?

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Read Something Wonderful

How do you boost your writing powers when a week at work, with busy, tired evenings and a weekend packed with chores has left your creativity squeezed to an arid husk? Read something wonderful!
This Sunday, I came down before my alarm for an early morning dose of Dylan Thomas.

Dylan Thomas. The man loved a booze-up, but what an extraordinary way with words.
Courtesy of

I loved his work at school – enjoying his vivid, lyrical writing and taking pride in his Welsh splendidness  (my Dad is Welsh, and that counts, OK?) But other than knowing some gorgeous, evocative lines by heart*, I hadn’t paid him much attention since.

Then this summer, on our family pilgrimage to the land of my Fathers, my parents suggested that one evening as we gathered in the cottage, three generations together, Dad was going to read to us from his favourite Thomas piece, The Outing.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure. I thought it might be awkward. In this day and age, people don’t read aloud to each other. In fact, people don’t spend much time listening to each other at all. But Dad went ahead, and do you know what? It wasn’t awkward. The story, of a Chapel outing that turns into a well-dressed bout of after-hours binge drinking, was funny, fresh, sharp and beautifully observed; the wording was bizarre and yet spot-on apt, and it all rolled out in my Dad’s recovered-for-the-occasion soft Welsh accent, warmed by his own appreciation for the work. Three generations laughed, and were spellbound.

It reminded me that it is my Dad who passed on to me his love of literature, that in my teenage years I raided his Penguin classics; that it is thanks to him that I now cherish a collection of my own.

A book shelf panorama from my home

As a writer who struggles to find words that surprise, strike oddly and yet hit home, evoking a startled but precise response, I could see that I needed Dylan Thomas in my head. When Jon asked what he could buy me for my (enormous) birthday this month, I asked for a Complete Works. It lay for a while, adding to the pile of things I feel guilty about because I don’t have time for them. Then this morning, I made time.

The poem, Prologue, was at first strange and mysterious. Then I began to find my way in it. I picked up the poet in his bay, surrounded by the thronging Welsh landscape, writing of a flood. When, some time later, I turned to my own writing, an ongoing (on and on-going) revision of my novel, the power of Thomas remained with me. Ordinary words were suddenly not enough; I deleted them. Fresher, wilder and more sharply aimed, better words took their place.

* Time held me, golden and dying/ Though I sang in my chains, like the sea.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Why is Facebook so Addictive?

Courtesy of

I had a Facebook holiday recently – no, I didn’t have a break from social media, I mean I went on holiday and posted updates about all the fun I was having in real time. It felt like a harmless way of keeping it touch, but it got me thinking, as every golden morning, family joke and appetising meal had me reaching for my phone to share it.
Krka waterfalls in Croatia, as posted on Facebook.

Human beings are profoundly social animals. We thrive on being connected to others, and use exclusion from society as a severe form of punishment. Isolation threatens our mental and physical health, and it is in relationship that we find safety, wellbeing and success.

Social media tap into this fundamental human need. I am using Facebook as an example, but other platforms are as deeply involved. Most of us sign up thinking we are just dabbling, but those onscreen communications soon begin to take on more and more significance. If someone likes something I have said, I feel popular. If I have lots of friends, I feel loved. If someone comments on my post, I am in conversation. When I check the latest newsfeed, I am connected to the wider world, and if I’m the first to pass on some news, I hold the power of knowledge. I feel I get more out of programmes I am watching if I can tap out a comment on them, and scroll through what others have said. On holiday, the moment that I upload as a photograph with a witty caption becomes more than itself: it is out there, immortalised, for others to see and comment on. It matters more; I matter more.

Facebook’s appeal is a heady mix of the stuff we rely on both physically, from the time we are defenceless babies, and psychologically ever afterwards: those feelings of relationship, connectedness and importance. It is powerfully addictive, and all the more so when it is carried around in a hand-held device that rarely leaves our side. Being the bearer of such seductive advantages, our mobile phone becomes more than just a method of communication; it takes on the role of a talisman representing friendship, success and even love.
Courtesy of
Is there anything really wrong with this? It is a great benefit to keep in touch with people we no longer see regularly; we can still feel involved in the lives of friends and family who live far away. Unfortunately though, we reach for those seductive few inches of screen even when we are physically with other people, and so real, face-to-face interaction is fractured by bowed heads, downcast eyes and permanent distraction. As we become more compellingly connected, we also become more isolated, and so we cling more tightly to our communicator, our comforter, our pocket charm.

It is not only our real, in-the-flesh relationships that can be distorted by this phenomenon. It also affects two skills that I believe are vital to wellbeing and growth: our ability to live in the moment, and to spend time inside our own heads. If everything is instantly recorded, shared and expressed, the sheer noisy overload of information risks drowning out our own lived experience and our ability to process and learn from it.

The irony won’t be lost on you that I am using the very platform that causes me these misgivings. You might want to turn off your computer, put your phone away and go and think about all this. Don’t forget to click ‘like’ and leave a comment before you do; it’ll make me feel better about myself.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Return of Wild Girl

Courtesy of

‘With every day that passes, I care a bit less about how I look.’

I said this to my sister a few days into our annual extended family holiday in Wales, recognising in my growing relaxation about appearances the whisper of an ancient call, a train whistle or a wolf howl in the distance, the rustle of grasses or the rush of wind through foliage, urging me to come outside.

I always start these holidays with civilised intentions.

 I take outfits for a variety of occasions and an array of products and electrical goods to tame my hair. We visit relatives on our first full day: always a best summer dress occasion with delicious welsh cakes eaten among ornaments and catch-up chat. After that, my wardrobe choices begin to break free. T-shirts and shorts seem adequate for most things, and family don’t notice if they are the same ones I wore yesterday. My hair reverts to the style I had when I was three, with additional roughness caused by cliff-top walks and sea water. By the time I made the comment to my sister, I had rediscovered the joys of sea swimming, rock scrambling and windswept mountain-tops, and had managed to injure both feet through heedless barefoot adventuring. I burst out of the cottage every day as soon as I woke up, thirsty for the morning smell of the air, and spent days gazing at red kites, buzzards and a proper rural fox in all their hunting glory. Towards the end of the week I recognised the return of the wild girl who lies stifled and half-forgotten inside me.

That's me in the middle, a day or so in, already not caring much

The truth is, I don’t think I was made to be civilised.
As a child, I attracted dirt the way boys are meant to, and I craved the adventures that are supposed to be theirs. I dreamed of being an enfant sauvage; one of the happiest afternoons of my life was spent with a like-minded friend, on the common, dressing ourselves in ferns like the last vestiges of a forgotten tribe. I loved to spend hot, dusty summer hours in the garden and come in filthy at bathtime. At the top of our garden, beyond Dad’s bean row was an area called ‘the dump’; really just scrubby ground with huge tree-studded hedges you could crawl into and make camps in; this was my jungle home. I loved the head-rushing excitement of tipping my bike over the top of an enormous hill and hurtling down with the wind roaring in my ears, my heart zinging and mouth watering with the thrilling taste of risk.

I still remember the sadness of no longer being allowed to run around bare-chested in the summer.

It was all over for Wild Girl when she was called in from the garden and had to put on a training bra. As time went on, I learned to be self-conscious as we all do, as though an apparently empty room turns out in fact to be crowded with people with their eyes on us, commenting. From then on, to my confusion and regret, clothes mattered; hair mattered; vital statistics mattered, and in all areas, I had to make a lot of effort to satisfy the watching eyes.

Our annual holiday is in so many ways a return to childhood.

 We spend time with our parents, we visit places we have been going to for years. This year it reminded me of Wild Girl, who still lives inside me, for whom dressing nicely, pottering around shops and chatting over teacups are a learned behaviour, a veneer of civilisation disguising a still-pounding, savage heart. Perhaps we all have a wild child inside us – a Mowgli or a Tarzan with a dreaming jungle home – perhaps that’s why tales of enfants sauvages speak to us, because we retain the impulses of childhood that made us happy before we were taught to sit still, keep clean and come indoors.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

My mother was worried to death, poor soul

So many days, so many words, and a backlog of poems patchworked together from them, so here are a few to share. You may wonder at some of the words that reach me, but I can tell you that people I work with say very strange things. Often. In some poems, you will hear echoes of news stories, old or new; one is haunted by a first-hand account of a ship being torpedoed, others ring with tabloid headlines that beggar belief, still more speak of scandals, personal or national: TV personalities disgraced; civilian areas packed with children, bombed. Books I am working on provide snippets either ridiculous or sublime. Words come with ideas that are silly, funny, dark or light, and a patchwork pattern emerges.

Ship fired on by the Bismark; image courtesy of

My mother was worried to death, poor soul

My mother was worried to death, poor soul
It was worse for her.
I was the baby of the family
With sisters who mothered me.
War felt like an adventure;
Almost a game.
When the Bismark fired, a shell
Missed Albert by only feet.
The sea was black with oil, three inches thick
If you took a mouthful of it, you would die.
All that went through my mind
Was the need to survive.
People were blasted, burnt, and shell-shocked,
There were so many.
It was everyone for themselves by then
You did what you could.
Thoughtlessness, a difference of opinion
An unintended hurt.
When these are ignored, a small
But bitter root can form.

Palestinian teenager killed
In a suspected revenge attack.
Three Israeli youths
Were buried on Tuesday -
An  emotive day.
The body was found in a forest in Givat Shaul.
The uncle said it was tragic beyond belief,
But the path of retaliation
Was not the answer.
By this they will know you are my disciples
If you love one another.
Live at peace with everyone, and of course
Be holy.

The room I laid him down in as a baby

Krakow, Bratislavia, Amsterdam, Berlin,
Sam, on the brink of all these places
Says a tired goodbye
In the room I laid him down in as a baby.
As I walk across the Ridgeway, past the fair
A warm gush of sadness breaks my stride.
Endure hardship as discipline;
God is treating you as sons.
Troglodytes troglodytes, the Eurasian wren
Glimpsed flittling, mouse-like, through the undergrowth
Or in the shrubs in my garden, is always exciting.
Use raw sienna, burnt umber,
Cadmium yellow and Mars black.
Add the eye highlight with the rigger and mix E.

Tyto albo, the barn owl, hunting over the long grass.
Is thought of as a creature of the night.
Vanellus vanellus, the Northern lapwing
Becomes more vocal at this time of year.

Well, it’s down to the last eight teams
Argentina, Belgium, Holland, Costa Rica,
Germany, France, Colombia, Brazil
And a couple of warehouse battles ahead.
Keep it clean, gents, and no biting allowed!

Place a tiny spot of opaque white
Aiming towards the source of light
This highlighted crescent shape
Suggests the curve of the eye.
Esau could bring about no change of mind
Though he sought the blessing with tears.

Car crashes, domestic violence, rape, drugs and sharks

I just felt she sucked all my energy
After the week I had had.
Colouring is creative, nostalgic
And a great cure for stress.
Recommended in news are:
Car crashes, domestic violence,
Rape, drugs and sharks.

Let us throw off everything that hinders us
And run the race marked out.
The athlete did not have a mental illness
At the time his girlfriend was shot.
The hardest thing about washi tape
Is choosing just one or two rolls.

He was known for his joviality
And easygoing manner
And was a fixture on British TV
For 50 years. When they arrested him,
Twitter lit up with messages of surprise.
These books are perfect for marker pens,
Crayons or paints.

All dead, apart from the tortoise

Dead dog, dead pig, dead rabbit -
Oh, the tortoise is alive.
Nuisance neighbour attacked man with a shovel
And made peacock noises to annoy another.

For the druid, the oak was the tree of life
In the Taoist tradition, it is a peach.
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots
Was imprisoned for twenty years.

A poltergeist, suspected of wrecking the house
Turned out to be a woman on a meth rampage.
All day she wrought with her Nydill
Till very payn made hir to give over.

The bride would squash a pomegranate underfoot
To be sure of having children.
The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
I think what we’re saying is,
We are prepared to wait.

I will miss you all terribly

I will miss you all terribly, but will keep in touch.
It was the stupid doll’s face fabric; the stretchy one.
I’m so sorry, as I hate to let you down.
Continue working the stitches across the row.

She was staring and not moving
On a path in the woods.
I just wanted to pass on
Some hope for the future.
Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’
Or ‘Here he is!’
Do not go running after them.

It’s about doll’s faces. I came in to the kitchen all excited.
If it is good news for all and forever,
It is good news for today.
It’s making it better, what I’m doing
But I don’t know what I’m doing.
So how will you know how to do it again?

This week I'm determined to feel less desperate

This week I’m determined to feel less desperate.
I write, and go to work, and weave the two.
I got engrossed today and left the house much later.
The wailing reached a crescendo
And abruptly stopped.

Two people have phoned for technical support
And it’s not even ten past nine!
To avoid releasing a turkey
You might want to add a chapter on this.

The next design job I have for you is this:
Sort out the nipples.
I am trying to devote more time to thinking ahead.

If you’re dealing with the outside world
We’re saying November.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul.

You look like a chavvy I was in prison with
I thought you was him.
Paint the right-hand side of the cliff with raw sienna
And blend it in.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Why is your story going to grab people? A nugget of query letter gold.

How do we prove that our story has wide appeal, that there’s a market out there just waiting to find it? A query letter to agents or publishers needs to show that it taps into some widespread impulse in society – a desire or a fear that drives people, and that they’ll respond to in our story.

This week I discovered a nugget of query letter gold in an article about the hit series, Long Lost Family:

Courtesy of

 If you haven’t seen Long Lost Family, do watch it, but not without a large box of tissues. It features mothers who gave up a child for adoption, often due to the social mores of another era, and who are now searching for that child years later. Also featured are adoptees searching for a birth parent. In all cases, the trail has gone cold, so that ITV’s adoption and tracing experts are the last desperate hope.

My novel Unspeakable Things is about Sarah, whose mother died when she was four, and who has been told nothing about her. Pregnant herself, she moves back the abandoned family home and becomes obsessed with a quest for answers, for which she depends entirely on her long-lost uncle.

Here in a nutshell is the story:
‘Pregnant editor, Sarah, is told that her dead mother suffered hereditary madness after childbirth, and tried to kill her, but is her uncle’s story true? Sarah must discover the family’s dark secret before her baby is born.’

I wanted to show that the story taps into a deep-seated need to know where we come from, so I  researched how many adoptees begin a search for their birth parents when they themselves are expecting a child. Unfortunately, adoption statistics are really hard to come by, so I found myself quoting outdated statistics in a rather dry way. I needed something much more compelling.

Imagine my delight when Twitter led me to an online Telegraph article about Long Lost Family, which last year had an audience of 5.2 million (get that, query letter readers – a huge potential market!) In it, Nicky Campbell, one of the programme’s presenters, himself adopted at birth, summarises its appeal:

‘We’re talking about the most basic-to-life things: attachment, identity, belonging and love. It’s all the stuff that makes the world go round. I think that’s why it resonates with people. They see echoes and reflections and shades of themselves within it.’

Nicky Campbell, I have long enjoyed your shows on Radio 5, your intelligence and humour (with this week this gem: ‘You know how you sit round as a family and debate the great issues of the day, well we were doing that last night, and I’d like to put it to you now. Vinegar. Are you largely for, or against?’) Now you have described with perfect brevity what drives my heroine, and I thank you for that nugget of query letter gold.

What impulses do your stories tap into? Or what books do you love because they evoke a deep response in you – a fear, a desire, a longing for adventure, a fiercely held belief? To start the ball rolling, I wonder if the reason I loved Catch-22 so much as a teenager is because it taps into a feeling you have at that age that much of what you’re being fed as truth or duty is in fact insanity, and you’re the only sane one, trapped inside it. I’d love to hear your favourites and the reason you think they grabbed you!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

I have been struggling with hurt pride

OK, that title is the first line of a poem - but I have noticed that in blog world 'disaster strikes' gets more page views than 'everything is going swimmingly'. Lately my 'patchwork poems' (pieced together from scraps of language I encounter in a day) ) have been more informed by personal issues. Things I have written, whether from the heart or for mundane or functional reasons, are interwoven with other people's words, from texts, emails, books I am editing, news updates, articles and even things I overhear in the street. A challenging time of hurt pride and frustration in 'real life' was followed by an upturn in my writing fortunes as I found a writing mentor and began to work productively with her. This form of poetry is both a form of expression and a great place to hide!

Have a look at these three short offerings – they are unpolished but seem to carry the essence of what I want to say more effectively than a more usual blog post.

Courtesey of

I have been struggling with hurt pride
But am starting to get some peace.
Once again, I’m sorry for the oversight
I should have made sure your book was promoted.

I’m sure God is whittling me on one of his walks.
I was floundering and clueless for a while,
But am now attaching chapters one to three.
Use the golden leaf brush to paint the sea.

We do not have a high priest who is
Unable to sympathise with our weaknesses.
I was cutting an apple with a penknife
When I sliced across a knuckle.

Paint the detail at the top of the lighthouse
Using a ruler to help you with the lines.
He was tempted in every way, as we are,
But did not sin.

The day wilts like the roses, blood-heavy, bloated and blown.
Use masking tape to mask out the horizon.
This brief is a great example
Of the kind of thing I had in mind.

I was feeling much better, and have then been stupidly upset
By another email. I have left behind me
Young men working long hours in the hot sun
For the minimum wage.

Cast-on stitch is used in Brazilian embroidery.
The next batch are easier, so why the price hike?
The rate we estimated didn’t really work for us.
I mean, what, really, am I doing with my life?

courtesy of

The air is full of plans and congratulations
That fall as stony weights on my unfaithful heart.
I am very surprised that I am not due any payment.
Personalise yours with motifs of your choice.

How to stop worrying and love your opening!
Use the templates in this book, or your imagination.
Harris hid a demon under his charming exterior.
It’s RGB white and two per cent K.

We need to find a way to resolve this more fairly.
It’s unreasonable; it’s my work and nobody asked me.
My opening was crammed with backstory
And changing points of view.

Juan to check my knocked back braids.
The numbers will not move, or not enough.
On the next table is the vicar who danced down the aisle.
She has seven million hits on Youtube.

We have sinned in thought and word and deed.
Heads roll, blood spurts and heads crack.
Turn through neatly; gently roll the seams.
These graphic depictions caused some people to faint.

The prognosis is not good. I shouldn’t have looked, but I did.
Please put the dates in your calendar and I’ll let Jeff know.
If we slow down now, we cannot counter the lies.
See the snowflakes at the back for inspiration.

It could have made a difference in saving their lives,
Had the circumstances only been different.

courtesy of

A war correspondant remembers young soldiers
Feared and reviled, coming for help.
‘We haven’t been able to call home in ages.’
They almost always phoned their mothers.
From the other side of the room
I’d hear the phone sound in Idaho.
You look like a chavvy I was in prison with!
I thought you was him.

There are no parallel lines that meet in the distance
And things are less detailed when further away.
Let us not give up on meeting together
Let us spend time and rekindle our faith.

Our son is disgruntled about travel expenses.
‘You didn’t hold back from helping Ben’.
I dream of a baby, found in our care
‘We haven’t even been feeding him!’

We regret that we can’t accept stories by email.
If your writing shows promise, we will contact you.
There is not much to beat an English June
With roses, strawberries and tea on the lawn.

We are going to swarm on Downing Street
To hammer the message home.
God willing, this force will be successful
And destroy the terrorist dens.

Eating cupcakes is a vital part of my life
It is there to be eaten – do not forget.
They wandered in deserts and mountains
In caves and holes in the ground.

A mini cupcake is a tiny canvas
The decoration is there to create its effect.
Who will look back at your name with gratitude?
Who are the fathers and mothers of your faith?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

A Writing Mentor Saves My Life

Still from Tom's Midnight Garden courtesy of

My confidence scraping rock-bottom, I doubted the wisdom of going to meet a new writing mentor now, fearing that one more discouraging knock might sink me altogether. What if her appraisal (initially of my first 3 chapters) found so many problems that I'd have a rewrite to do on the scale of the last, which took me two years of work crammed into evenings, mornings and chore-filled weekends? Maudlin with worst-case scenarios, I pictured myself following her damning comments with a plea,

'Is there anything you like? Do you think I have any chance of publication at all?'

Minutes into our two-hour consultation, all such fears fell away. This was not only because there was so much she liked (I had to master a self-deprecating 'thank you' to repeat as she revealed her enthusiasm for many aspects of what I had written) but also because I could immediately tell what an excellent grip she had on what was wrong in my first chapter, and how I could put it right.

Writers know that the first few paragraphs are all that matters, whether it's an agent, a publisher or a book-buyer who is assessing your work. If this bit doesn't entice them, they are not going to read your synopsis, ask to see your whole novel, or buy your book. Knowing this, I had thrown my all into the opening, trying to cram in as much exposition, character backstory and general pazzazz as possible so that prize judges and others would be hooked. The writing groaned under the strain. As my writing consultant pointed out the jumps from one point of view to another, the amount of backstory jammed in and the interruption of the action as characters harked back to the past and the further past, this became clear as day.

It is incredibly hard to judge your own work. If you have been working on something for a long time, certain phrases, rewritten, honed, polished and read umpteen times, stop registering in your mind at all. As you read over them, a kind of numbness grips you, but you don't know if it's because the passage is too familiar, or because it isn't working. That's when you need a pair of expert eyes to guide you.

I came out of the consultation elated. I have work to do, but I know where I'm going now. Most important of all, someone else believes in the project; someone whose expertise I trust. We got on like a house on fire and discovered we have loads in common. Most delightful of all was the opportunity to have someone else discover the world I have created and in which I spend hours wandering around, with only my fictional creations for company. Here was someone else admiring the view, commenting on this, caring about that, taking a liking to a character or recognising something I've pointed out. I was like Tom in his Midnight Garden, discovering he was not alone there.

It was hard to be stuck down by self-doubt, just when a setback had shown me how much writing matters in my life. You are not supposed to use blogs for whingeing - it puts readers off; but last week I couldn't help myself, and it was interesting to see that a post with 'disaster strikes' in the title got so many more views than most!) Well, here the whingeing ends. I have a writing mentor. I have a plan.

The writing life is good again.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Disaster strikes on the road to gaining writing credits

The magazine in which I have an article, and the paper in which I dream of having an article.

The writing life had been rocky lately. As all part-time writers know, cramming your hopes and ambitions into the hours outside work produces a poignant mix of exhaustion, focused creativity, frustration and longing. I had been concentrating on trying to get some writing credits to ‘sex up’ the dossier of my query letter. A campaign of sending off short stories, poems and pitches for articles had come to a disheartening nothing, and the temptation to give up, as I have always done, crept up and threatened to pounce. An article I had published in a local counselling magazine was something to cling to, but it wasn’t enough on its own.

Then came a reply from a charity, OCD UK. I had sent an article about my experience, five years ago, when my 13-year-old son developed OCD. It was meant to give advice and hope to parents searching the web in desperation, as I had during a very dark time. The stories I found were heart-rending and depressing, whereas my son had eventually come through and now at 18 sees OCD as being in his past. I don’t deny that the article was also meant to get me a proper writing credit to help reboot my dream of a writing future.

The charity wanted to publish it, both online and in print. Hope blazed into life. I just had to check the terms of my son’s permission. I knew he would not allow a photograph, which the charity had asked about, and I thought he might want to edit some of the detail, but I assumed he would be positive about a sensitively written article that expresses great pride in his achievement in overcoming this dreadful mental illness.

He refused permission. Even though I didn’t use his name; even if I didn’t use my name; even if he had the right to edit; he would not allow it. Nor would he listen to my feelings on the matter; his own upset at the issues I had stirred up outweighing anything I might have to say. I had to contact the charity again and withdraw the article I had been so delighted to have accepted.

There was nothing I could do. My son’s privacy, and family harmony, had to come first. Over the next few days of sleepless disappointment and stunned resentment, I learned two things. One: always check you have permission before pitching. Two: if writing means as much me as these overblown emotions suggest, shouldn’t this be better reflected in my life? I have decided it should. There has been a huge fundamental shift in my thinking, and things are going to be different.

As for my son, he has A levels. He needs my support. I love him. He may, in some strange way, have done me a favour.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Celebrating Great Writing 2: Dallas Buyers’ Club and Showing, Not Telling a Character’s Change of Heart

Ron Woodroof's diagnosis with AIDS, thanks to

Too often when a character in a drama has a big change of heart, it is writ large in ‘I’m not going to take it any more!’ type declarations. What I really appreciated when I saw Dallas Buyer’s Club recently, was how the character arc of hero Ron Woodroof is developed in a way that is subtly shown, not shouted from the rooftops. Writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack seem to have trusted the viewer to understand the character’s transformation without him bursting out with ‘I’ve changed, I’m not like that any more!’ lines, or demonstrating the change in obvious, dramatic set pieces.

At the start of the action, in 1985, Ron Woodroof is a heavy-drinking rodeo cowboy, enthusiastically heterosexual and ‘backs against the wall’ homophobic. After an accident, he is told he has AIDS at a time when, with this diagnosis, if you weren’t an intravenous drug user, it was assumed you were gay. Woodroof goes through a phase of furious, raging denial until research reveals that unprotected sex has infected him. Having been given thirty days to live, he discovers that the drugs being trialled in the US are not as effective as those available for a price in Mexico, and so he begins to import unlicensed drugs and sell them on the streets to AIDS victims.

Thanks to

It is the change in Ron’s attitude to the gay community that is so impressively portrayed. To begin with, any approach by a gay man is met with disgust and angry rejection. Next, Ron is sent packing by his own former community, the rodeo crowd, who assume he is secretly gay and are terrified of catching AIDS. As he sets up the Mexico trail of experimental drug importation, it is subtly shown, though never laboured, that Ron is isolated at this most vulnerable time of his life. Visiting gay bars in order to sell his product, his physical demeanour and facial expressions reveal the change, as revulsion and fear turn gradually to bemused acceptance.  Rarely has an actor’s face shown a transformation so effectively. Great acting helps, of course, and Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for his portrayal of Ron. However, great writing must also be credited, and what’s refreshing about Dallas Buyers’ Club is the way the writers trust not only the actor to deliver the character’s change, but the viewers to understand it, without Ron needing to say, ‘I’m lonely! Everyone else has rejected me. These guys are weird, but they accept me. We’re in the same boat. Why shouldn’t I accept them..?’
Thanks to

I have often felt slightly confused by the advice to writers to ‘show, not tell’, but here’s a superb example of the craft well executed, to instruct us all.

Have you been blown away by the writing of a film or TV character? Have you had any ‘light-bulb’ moments when you realised what showing, not telling really means? Any film recommendations for me? Leave a comment or a line on Facebook!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Celebrating great writing 1: Breaking Bad’s bright sparks

Thanks to

I love to celebrate good writing and so I can no longer hold back from having a word or two about Breaking Bad, the extraordinary Netflix sensation that everyone is telling you you have to watch. You may have noticed that lately, some of the very best writing is coming from US television rather than films, and this is a case in point. If you haven’t seen it, I will warn you that you have to get through the pain barrier of the first two episodes that, although brilliant, are incredibly gruesome; I have a strong stomach but wasn’t sure I could go on. However, do go on; this is one of the most compelling dramas you will see and before you know it, you will be nagging everyone you know to watch it too.

There are all kinds of things to applaud in the writing of Breaking Bad: the strong characters; the double-jointed, oft-twisting plot, and most strikingly of all, the uneasy moral position standpoint we as viewers find ourselves in as we watch a hero become an anti-hero and, as incredible events unfold, our allegiances don’t quite know who to cling to.

If I had to choose one thing that makes the writing stand out, though, it is the intelligence of many of the characters. Often in drama, the plot relies on some of the characters not understanding what is going on, and we as viewers get way ahead of them, guessing and second-guessing until the (fictional) truth finally dawns on them, or, in thrillers, more likely explodes in their faces. For a while, Breaking Bad too relies on protagonist Walt’s wife Skyler not knowing what is going on, and there is some delicious dramatic irony as this happy, conventional all-American family gets together: Walt playing the innocent cancer victim but in fact funding his treatment by manufacturing crystal meth, right under the nose of his drug enforcement cop brother-in-law.

Thanks to

To start with, Skyler is so very straight, wide-eyed and innocent, that we underestimate her. However, Skyler has hidden depths. Skyler, it turns out, is fiercely intelligent, and at times she comes out as more than a match for the brilliant chemist and life-long under-achiever, Walt. Now things get really interesting. Skyler begins to make her own guesses about what Walt is up to. She begins to make her own strategies to cope. As the plot twists and turns, Walt uses his razor-sharp mind to stay on top in the terrifyingly perilous business of playing drug cartels at their own game, and all the time he seeks to keep Skyler in the dark. In a series packed full of delicious surprises, Skyler’s own machinations stand out as subverting the genre. This is not a story about one hyper-intelligent man and his nemesis, trading brilliant ploys while the others involved struggle to work out what is going on. Most unusually, as viewers, we can never assume that we are one step ahead of the characters, however much we guess and second-guess and speculate. In terms of intelligence, Walt surprises us, Skyler surprises us, Gus becomes a force we hadn’t reckoned with, Hank’s mind turns out to be sharper than we thought possible, and even the innocent-faced, often hapless Jesse at times exceeds our expectations.

This brilliant writing strategy is what keep us, as viewers, on our toes; it is what makes the series a cut above most thrillers. This is no lazy viewing experience; it puts us intellectually through hoops and more hoops, in fact, watching all five seasons (we are currently on season four) must be like putting your thriller-brain through the ultimate obstacle course. If you don’t watch it, do what you can to obtain it. If you have watched it all, no spoilers please – I don’t yet know the ending, and I think it’s highly unlikely that I’ll guess.

Join in, thriller fans – if you love Breaking Bad, what makes it stand out for you?
If not, what other thrillers in books, films or series have you on the edge of your seat, and what makes the writing stand out? I’d love to hear from you – use Facebook if you can’t make my comments widget work!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Make Patchwork Poetry From the Words that Bombard You All Day

Words come at us all the time, in texts, emails, conversations overheard, facebook updates, news feeds and more. Needing a boost for my flagging creativity, I recently decided to write a poem for every day of the working week, piecing together snatches of these words, patchwork fashion. I edit art and craft books, and the instructional text I deal with can be banal, or strangely evocative, so I scribbled down bits of this too, along with some of the bizarre things that get called across my office.

My five poems were informed by books I was editing on sewing and Manga, daily reflections from the vicar, a poorly spelled review, a visit from 7-year-old twins, online articles, a church notice about a food bank, a Tony Benn quote on the day he died, a text from my son about a minister visiting his school, and in spring-like weather, people calling from windows or talking on doorsteps. They were also haunted by the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, and the trial of Oscar Pistorius.

Thanks to
Thanks to

Whether you usually write poetry or not, I urge you to have a go at this. Scribble down the words as they strike you, and then look at them at the end of the day and begin to put the various lines together. Some of the juxtapositions will be funny, others poignant. You can of course add personal reflections from your day. I guarantee the results will be fresh and vibrant, and will surprise you. 

Working Week

Slim young men in misty sunlight talk:
She actually stood up for me, which I was quite pleased about.
I burst into harsh neon, lost schedules, failing machines;
Add downward-pointing thrusters on the backs of the thighs.

May is new today, but copes impressively while I sift through ozalids.
Already on my mind, I’ve got a big dilemma with Martin;
They went blah, blah, blah, and then they went off on a tangent;
Exploding at speed across an alien planet.

What do you think of this comment, and how should I reply?
Is there a way for us to not let our hearts be troubled?
Edge the smoke with greys.
On top of all that, they’re only offering half a page.

The unattended bath will flood the room, the unfilled car will stop.
Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?
They think they’ve found a life raft.
We are every hour, every second, looking at every area of the sea.

The families of the passengers have been told to prepare for the worst.
However, their aren’t any of the process of making them.
I think it would of added something to the patterns.
Love you and so glad you are feeling better.

Grab a pen and write a thank you note to someone.
This size is more efficient; we get better printer prices.
I think it might be paternity leave. It’s such a precious time.
The dummies are on the way.

Thanks to ever-increasing work pressures,
Workday lunches are when good intentions nose-dive.
I don’t know, I think the cupcakes had more impact.
By shutting the door, we could chat more freely and noisily.

I step out into grey, cold wind and make my way homewards
See a devil-faced dog, white with pink eyes,
And remember ancient shame, stuck up a tree
In a childhood garden, under barked attack, the only one afraid.

Two hundred people and an aeroplane
Swallowed up in mystery
And none can fathom where or why;
If the sea knows, it won’t give up the secret.

I must try to disentangle the workings of my office.
That’s not the usual procedure we go through.
There was no distress signal or radio contact
indicating a problem.

It’s very bizarre; I’ve had all these emails.
We are studying the behaviour of the passengers.
Mary is screaming for something now.
Maybe she was rushing and panicking?

Thread is an absolute must for any stitcher.
Not just a head, but a head with a body; perhaps arms.
The marabou has a fluffy mind of its own;
Blow on it while stitching to reduce entanglement.

On the homeward path, a small child passes
Chatting with his Dad. I am tugged, winded, snatched at
By the instinct to nurture, outdated and irrelevant
But still so fierce.

It’s not depression; he isn’t depressed.
He has been with us seven years, which is six years longer
than any of his relationships have lasted.
A passer-by thought this was dog was a pile of trash.

It ended about three weeks later.
Last words from the cockpit were, ‘Alright, goodnight.’
Finally, attach the firecrackers along
the entire length of the ribbon.

The last communication suggests everything was normal
minutes before it went missing.
Sometimes you feel she could turn on you at any time.
I waited for a second to see if they had guns.

It’s a different question from ‘where have all your dummies gone?’
We feel that the word ‘character’ is really important.
Could you tell her that I’ve left for the day and to call tomorrow?
I’m getting close to being unpleasant.

It wasn’t Mummy’s fault they broke up; it was hers
She used to sneak down in the night and eat all our food.
Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
Beheaded means your head comes off. What’s ‘divorced’?

There are forty-three ships and forty aircraft
searching the South China Sea.
With right sides together, pin then sew around the heart.
The mist of mystery is dissolved by the words of the Son.

There is a shape somewhere in the sea
that might be a plane.
If you prefer a fuller heart,
Make your template with a five-inch depth.

Zilch reply from anybody!
We’re all away that week. We’re out buying yarn.
Watch while angels on a plane
Bring a baby back to life.

There were trophies and medals in the house,
And a jacuzzi, but no blood.
I could not find the words to vocalise my state of mind.
I was stopped by the incredible kindness of a stranger.

I was taught everything at school
Except how to look after my wellbeing.
Part-baked bread and unisex deodorant.
What a shame your experience was ruined.

These items can be delivered to the Christ Church office.
Money, sex and power. Carl Beech
Will talk about these battleground areas.
No teabags, beans or soup at the moment, thank you.

It’s ok not to be popular or funny.
They would have no cars and no clothes
So might find public transport draughty;
Otherwise a good start at cultivating a grateful heart.

Gove turned up late to the whole set-up
and talked to one fit Year Twelve, before buggering off.
Where is your God? I don’t see your God here.
These were the words of the judge appointed to the trial.

The air has a chill whiff of spring and rings with voices.
I said to her, have some dinner first before going round there
I ain’t going round and starving all evening.
I didn’t know nothing about it
I’ve never run out of gas or electricity,
And now she thinks I’ve got the hump with her.
Hello darling, it’s mummy.
Can you make me a cup of tea please?
I’m nearly home.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a boring book in my life.
She started off really, really enthusiastic
And then she started getting shirty.
It’s going to take every ounce of my talent.

An additional search may be opened in the Indian Ocean.
I leaned back and inhaled, and it went down the wrong pipe.
The worst case scenario would be
Halfway between Madagascar and Australia.

I have told you now before it happens,
So that when it happens, you will believe.
The poor, the addicted, the sinful.
I did my critique, and she got really curt with me.

Why shouldn’t your jam jars be well-dressed too?
I have told you these things so that you may have peace.
This cap will make your homemade jam feel special.
The boring, the stupid and the weak.

People we laugh about, or even at –
People we try to avoid.
One half know better and the other half don’t listen.
Pomposity has rocketed since you joined.

Mussolini’s headquarters was a supervillain lair
Perfectly presented for the picnic table.
When the balloon goes up on Monday,
I’m not getting involved.

I’m not getting through here, am I?
Is everyone listening now?
The court saw graphic images of the crime scene
Including a toilet streaked with blood.

To whom are you accountable, and how can we get rid of you?
Because he’s a celebrity, they may remove things from his home.
May the peace of the Lord, a peace the world cannot give
Fill our hearts and minds.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Using the Bad Stuff in Life to Make Your Writing Better

The good news is that my husband is better. After making very slow, two-steps-forward-and-one back progress for nine months, his eventual recovery was sudden; almost overnight it was as though he was here again after a long absence. For a while, I just basked in the joy of having him back. Anxiety and depression are dreadful for those who endure them – I don’t even pretend to know what it is like, though I did a lot of studying to help me understand Jon’s plight better. However, living with someone who is suffering takes its own toll. For the long months of Jon’s illness, I think I lived on adrenaline: researching the subject, buying books, seeing a counsellor to help me cope better and coming up with endless strategies to try to aid Jon’s recovery. I grasped on to need to economise because of our cut in income and became absurdly gung ho about that; here at least was something I could do. The problem with anxiety and depression is that healing takes time; in the meantime there is not really a lot you can do to improve the situation. You just need to find a way to endure it – and my way was constant, frustrated, adrenaline-fed effort.

The thing about adrenaline is that once it is not needed any more, it drains away, and this can leave you feeling very flat. I experienced this years ago when Jon was knocked off his bike by a car. While he was in hospital with broken bones and a punctured lung, I was Mrs Coping Marvellously, juggling hospital visits, work and caring for two young children. However, once he was home, slowly recovering, panic over, I suddenly felt very low.

I think this is what is happening now. Jon is going from strength to strength, rediscovering the joy of teaching and feeling confident and optimistic about his abilities. Ironically, Mrs Coping Marvellously now feels she is rather rubbish at everything. All marvellousness has flown. The first sign was a massive slump in my confidence about writing. A few rejections for short stories and poems I had sent off were enough to make me feel like giving up altogether. The thought of writing a query letter for my novel, full of bouncy self-confidence and marketing savvy, was too exhausting to even contemplate. Writing itself became a chore.
What do you do in these circumstances? You keep going. One word at a time. Keep thinking about your writing. Keep involved with it. Tell yourself that feelings pass. Skills learned through years of hard work don’t disappear overnight; confidence will return. Perhaps don’t undertake anything as major as contacting agents or making big decisions about your writing when you are feeling low. Just carry on being a writer until the creative spark, the energy and the motivation return.

If you are a writer, the bad things in life are never wasted; they give you that crucial edge of insight when you are creating the even worse things that happen to your characters. This week, as part of a Lent course, I was called upon to identify my ‘toolkit’ – those skills, gifts, attributes or just character traits that allow me to benefit others in a way that is unique to me. It wasn’t a great week for such positive thinking, and I was tempted to put ‘I blessed my colleagues with my ability to remain mainly upright today’. Then I thought of empathy. I always imagine how other people are feeling. Of course this doesn’t mean I am always right, but it is habit of mind I have always had: whatever happens, I wonder what other people feel about it. Thus if something happens to upset a friend or colleague, I hope I’m there with a listening ear to give them a sense that I hear them and validate their feelings – which is all most of us want when we’re upset.

It is also empathy that makes me want to write. People fascinate me. What makes them tick, what lies beneath the exterior, how do they experience life? It is this inner life that I want to create, in a way that readers recognise, believe and feel compelled to follow through to the end of the story.

When life kicks you in the teeth, it gives you a unique opportunity to experience what suffering feels like. Often those feelings are a surprise. I understood, for instance, why Jon’s illness made me feel worried for his safety, and insecure about our future. I hadn’t expected that it would make me feel angry. I hadn’t expected to feel lonely, unloved and guilty.

It was when I was walking home from work, thinking about empathy, that my mind drifted into thinking about the characters in my novel, Unspeakable Things, and it was my own surprising feelings about the last nine months that informed several sudden new insights into how these characters would feel. When I got home, I made some notes, probably explicable only to me:

‘Make Jim scarier. Churned up with anger he can’t explain over Sarah’s mood.’

‘Review bit where he thinks the place has a different meaning for her. Give Jim more edge. ADD DRAMA’.

‘Sarah might feel panic as her lack of knowledge dawns – why didn’t I ask? How could I not know what she died of? Is there a secret? Is that why all the questions, odd looks..?'

‘Clarify emotional journey between Jim and Sarah, always with the seeds of his possible betrayal of her, his feelings of anger, rejection and guilt as she drifts away.’

These notes address a structural issue in the novel: I need to tweak and clarify a potential plot twist that should get readers excited. It is a need I have identified before, and worked on, but that probably needs more work. On that walk home, though, it was my own difficult feelings over Jon’s illness that fed a reworking of my characters to make the dynamic between them more believable. I know that as Sarah drifted into deep, internalised obsession, Jim would feel angry and alone; that he wouldn’t understand the feeling, and that he would feel guilty about it with a kind of self-loathing and attempted repression that would only feed the explosive nature of his anger. I’ve been there; that’s how I know.

No one, not even the most committed writer, wants the bad stuff to happen. But when it does, eventually we can learn from it, and make our writing more insightful, empathetic and believable as a result.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Fabulous Bafta speeches and a writer's stream of consciousness as confidence crashes

If you love good writing, you love it wherever it occurs, and I was hugely impressed by some of the speeches at the Baftas this week, most notably from Alfonso Cuaron, whose heavily accented English put many speechwriters to shame as he accepted the Best Director award, saying: ‘I consider myself part of the British Film Industry. I guess I make a good case for curbing immigration’; and commenting on ‘the upstairs/downstairs distinctions in which some categories are defined as artistic and others are defined as technical. I want to share this award with those artists who live downstairs.’ 

Helen Mirren’s speech was also a delight, beginning with a call for the roomful of sparkling high achievers to acknowledge the inspiration they received from teachers, and ending hauntingly with Shakespeare.

You won’t be surprised that Stephen Fry’s hilarious digs at those accepting writing awards with poor grammar gave me moments of pure editorial glee.

Meanwhile as replies, even negative ones, slow to nothing, motivation lags and lapses, consciousness streams. My writing, prized and preened, pored over, even lately prioritised – the writing that got teachers excited, garnered prizes, puffed me up into something better than ordinary; the same writing that pulled me through early motherhood, the last shred of confidence to clutch at and cling to, that writing, lately revived, treasured and even spoken of in the world, is no good. After all that, no good. That must be it, no good. No prizes come my way, no one is excited, many don’t even reply. Fish is in an ocean now, and the other fish swim overhead, enormous. I cringe in their shadows. The white screen seems too much effort; why torture myself. Try. Keep going. They all say that is the difference, the way to succeed. I cross out the phrases that come first to mind: not good enough. Find better ones, odd ones, fresh, striking and strangely apt. Put those in. Keep doing that. One word in front of another; footsteps on a page. Write on.