Resting… or not, as the case may be…


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Dear reader, how nice!
It’s been a while, but there’s a clue in the subtitle: ‘process…’  For a while, as I waited, there was none – not so’s you notice. Waiting is waiting & must be braved. The joy is in the outcome: a measure of progress within the process, so to speak.

Having untangled the minutiae of the structural edit, I dived in again. That’s the beauty of smart, intelligent, instinctual editing – it makes you want to do better. And as it turns out, I’ve been aided & abetted by an injury to the plantar ligament in my foot. (If you know it, you know it… There aren’t enough versions of ‘ouch’… And no need to commiserate. Cake will be fine…) The only treatment is rest.

Rest & write then. My brain, a thing of furious, focused energy, unpicking my story & stitching it together again; my body inert & aching from inactivity. The ridiculous irony is, in this rearranged version of my story (starting in the right place this time), I’m writing about a ballet dancer who injures her foot…


Go figure…


Into the stream…


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I may not be blogging much for a while.

Structural edits are in. The End as I know it becomes redundant. One thing’s clear – I don’t always begin at the beginning either. Not the right beginning at any rate. Or end the way I’m meant to.

I’m off then, to wander – less aimlessly I can only hope. Re-assemble this story & say what I meant to, at the beginning, when I first had the idea.

Writers do a great deal of wandering off. What Virginia Woolf described as, ‘the line of thought [dipped] deep into the stream.’ The perfect metaphor for editing.


See you, dear reader… I have to sharpen my pencils & grab my galoshes.

In love with blue


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

It’s a typically ‘island’ morning. Heavy mist brings a sense of isolation, perfect for a writer, pondering what to write on her neglected blog. It’s a month since my last post. It occurred to me just now that it’s three days shy of a year since I revealed the cover for my second book, Snow Sisters.

Snow Sisters Cover final front only sm

Tenterhooks wasn’t in it. I’d spent weeks, watching the process of cover-creation unfold, silently screaming, ‘It’s too blue!!!’ The original image was a lot paler & it was partly why, when I was offered the image, I jumped at it. And then the designer came on board & the blue set in.

‘Trust the process,’ said my editor, when I voiced a small concern.
Too blue, I muttered to myself.

Oh, ye of little faith.

One of the things you learn, as you navigate the publishing world, is that the importance of a cover has little to do with what you, the author, imagines it to be. It isn’t about your vision or the pictures you’ve been hoarding ever since you thought up your first title. (Which, FYI, could well end up have nothing to do with your initial idea either.) It’s about marketing: shelf-appeal, genre-style & how customers (often subconsciously) react to covers, to colours & font. And getting all of this right is a skill. Like professional editing & diligent proofreading, cover design is down to someone else’s skill-set & rarely to yours.

Blue then – deep, subtle blue with hints of ice… Perfection. And apparently, popular.

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I love my book covers. On the shelf, my wee books are bobby-dazzlers.

my books 3

In a year (minus three days) of Sundays I doubt I could have come up with anything remotely as sweet. Brava Honno, (longest-standing independent women’s press in the UK, by the way) you do us proud.

Rereading books…



Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Theoretically, I need never buy another book. If I live to be a hundred (my plan) I won’t run out of books to read.

If you ask me to count how many books I’ve given away over the years, I can do so on the fingers of one hand. Every room in my small flat is lined with books. There’s a bookcase by the front door (it holds my ‘crime’ collection) & my bedroom is home to several TBR piles. There are books in the bathroom & the  kitchen; still more in my study. I’ve had some of my books since I was a little girl.

I buy books all the time; new & secondhand. Charity shops are great for when cash is short but new books are lush. The smell of them, the excitement of discovering them on the shelves of a bookshop. I like the sound of packages sliding through the letterbox too. Living in the sticks with a 50-mile round trip to the closest bookshop means sometimes, I order online. I look forward to the rap on the door, the smile on both our faces when my postman announces, ‘More books, love!’ I forgive him the endearment. He’s a nice guy & likes books too.

Since I’ve been published, I’ve met lots of writers – authors of brilliant books in a variety of genres & I’ve learned so much it makes my head spin. These people are my tribe & I buy their books. (Some of them buy mine too – who knew?!) New books keep me connected to fresh ideas & imaginative, inspiring writing.

It doesn’t mean I don’t still want to reread my old books. It’s a habit I’ve never outgrown. I read Jane Eyre every year & it makes my heart sing. Old books are depositories for stories that have lasted generations – thousands of years in some instances. They’re still around because of the quality of the writing. I have a fair number of these.


I hang on to my books. Find space for them because they’re worth it. And as a writer, I’m worth it too. Reading, for me, is essential. And I agree with whoever it was who said, writers need to read widely – across genres & out of their comfort zone. Stephen King – that’s the chap. He talks about how trying to write like a particular (usually famous) author results in ‘pale imitation.’

The books on my shelves cover most genres. If we read only the kind of books we write, we’ll stall, learn nothing & our writing will be the worse for it. It’s tempting, I get that, but variety in reading is essential if we are to improve as writers, regardless of the genre we choose to write in ourselves.

I think the reason is, there are seams of connection to be found in the books we read which, on the face of it, are nothing like the ones we write. Small things in & of themselves which we may not even realise we’re picking up on. It is, as they say, grist to our writing mill. Reading a crime thriller always teaches me something about pace & structure. And every time I reread Charlotte Brontë’s wondrous offering, if nothing else, I try a bit harder.

The book I have lined up as my next read was published in 1932. It’s Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. (Many of you will be familiar with it.) As I’m currently planning on conjuring ‘something nasty in the [cellar]‘ for #Book4, I’m sure it will prove helpful.

Read widely, dear writer – read your old books – & prosper.

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In praise of publishers


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Who knew, dear reader, that at an age when a good many women are settling into a version of retirement, I would be getting my first traditional publishing deal? Back in 2016, after what seemed like a lifetime, that is exactly what happened. And in 2017, I did it again.

There was – because there always is – an element of luck attached to both events. I was lucky to have access to the Meet the Editor scheme, hosted by the press that would eventually publish me. I was fortunate to be mentored by an editor with an astute mind & an eye for something on the quirky side. And finally, I found myself in the hands of a ridiculously small & hardworking team willing to take a chance on me.

In a world where getting a traditional publishing deal is as rare as a Kate Bush gig, I remain grateful. Genuinely so. I’m lucky to be published. Lucky to be so well looked after, to have my words treated with respect, my responses to editorial differences thoughtfully considered; to be involved at every stage of the publishing process. If the past few years have taught me anything it is this: those of us who are traditionally published by reputable presses are immensely privileged.

Since I was published, in many ways my life has changed beyond recognition. It’s still amazing to me & each day I count my blessings. I love it when people smile & say, ‘I read your book. Wow! Well done!’ Yes, I’ve worked hard but being published doesn’t make me special, it makes me fortunate. Makes me want to write more, be “full of work” & regardless of the future, remain indebted to my publisher.

This morning, as I often do, I opened A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf at a random page. This is what I read:

The dream is too often about myself. To correct this; and to forget one’s own sharp absurd little personality, reputation and the rest of it, one should read; see outsiders; think more, write more logically; above all be full of work; and practice anonymity…



More than a fan


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Every year on Christmas Eve, I enact a small ritual. I read, out loud, to myself, A Child’s Christmas In Wales by the poet Dylan Thomas. It’s a short book & takes me about fifteen minutes. My copy is old – I found it in a secondhand bookshop years ago. It bears a dedication: ‘Fondest Christmas Wishes, Ann‘ & the date, 1968. Every year I wonder who ‘Ann’ was, who gave her the book & how it ended up being given away again.

dylan t

In the same way I would never use the word ‘fan’ about my esteem for Virginia Woolf, I resist it with regard to Thomas too. Both are without equal in my view. I’m an admirer of both writers & try not to sound ridiculously pretentious by using words like ‘veneration’ & ‘homage’…

Yesterday, for the first time, I went to Laugharne & visited The Boathouse where Dylan Thomas lived for the last few years of his life. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long. One of those things (like visiting Monks House where Mrs Woolf lived) I’ve always meant to do & somehow never got around to. Now I have & it was worth the wait. I went with my daughter, who is as much an admirer of Mr Thomas as I am of Mrs Woolf. (I can feel a ‘famous dead people’s dinner party’ coming on.)

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Thomas’s renowned writing shed is en route to The Boathouse. You can’t go inside & quite right too. It’s been preserved (& renovated) & nicely evokes a sense of what it must have looked like when Dylan Thomas worked there. You can peer (we did!) through the tiny window & take pictures.

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On a blisteringly hot day, I stepped inside the parlour at The Boathouse & the sense of place was immediate & quietly mesmerising. It was cool & peaceful. There were no echoes of voices: joyful or fiery; no hint of the explosive relationship Thomas had with Caitlin, his wife. Time, it seems, has softened the edges of the house. Which I like. The private lives of my & heroes & sheroes are best accessed through biographies. This close to home they are none of my business. I was content to be there & feel privileged.

Rest in peace Mr Thomas… Gently or otherwise…



‘And changes into the most beautiful iridescent blue’ *


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Island life, Word birds & Process

In case new followers aren’t aware (my ramblings notwithstanding) this blog is my version of a writer’s diary. Its main function is to help me keep track of my writing process. In other words, it often consists of me thinking aloud – it’s highly likely I’ll make little sense to you, dear reader & if you’ve got this far, I’m impressed…

In my last entry I talked to myself about my next story: resurrect a previous one or start from scratch. It ended with me saying, I would wait & see which word birds ‘whispered the loudest.’

It seems the new one wins. Not because ‘going back’ is a bad thing. It can be & a story that isn’t working is a story that probably needs ditching. I know when I’m writing the wrong one. Riverbook isn’t wrong – it just isn’t the right time.

At writing group on Monday, I ran the outline of my new idea past my co-conspirator, Janey, & a week later, on the back of much slashing & brainstorming, I have it. Beginning. Middle. End. With the wrong whistles & bells relegated to the delete pile, the new ones glimmer. And I have a title! This early in the process it’s a bonus. (Book 3 has had almost as many titles as chapters. In the end I found it, hiding in plain sight within the narrative, but it took ages.)

This new story is as Gothic as I’ve gone thus far. I’m enjoying the trajectory of my books – from baby ghost to ‘presence’ via a tragic Victorian haunting. This one has sisters, another house (although not necessarily as we know it) & birds. (I am programmed to write birds into my stories.) And the colour blue… Also again, but it’s a lush colour & it works – in an entirely different context – so why not? A stroke of serendipity just now: as I thought blue, Kate Bush sang the title line above, which is, frankly, witchcraft & convinces me I’m on the right track.

I’m taking my time, making my notes & feeling my way. I have a new, magical writing frock (to go with the writing earrings.) All I need now is some discipline.

Chiharu Shiota
© Chiharu Shiota
* Kate Bush Sunset

‘I hear stories…’


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

‘…It could be myself telling them to myself or it could be these murmurs that come out of the earth. The earth so old and haunted, so hungry and replete. It talks. Things past and things yet to be.’ *

The space in between finishing a book & beginning another is filled with confusion. The non-writer perhaps imagines euphoria laced with a self-satisfied grin of smug. I’ll concede a fleeting sense of relief. It’s done. You’ve done it (again, if you have) & jolly well done. Have all the chocolate & a vat of wine; abandon the pyjamas & see to the pile of ironing in your bedroom resembling an art installation.

The truth is closer to panic. Even after several ( rounds of editing, a reasonably competent draft is only the beginning. The editing we do for ourselves is just that. Ours. It’s subjective & highly likely to be Not Good Enough. The manuscript must now line up in readiness to be perused by The Real Editor.

This space is called Waiting. Cue gibbering, a sense of doom & the utter conviction that you are pants. (The small, hopeful voice lurking in the corner, whispering ‘It’s really not that bad, you know’ is a fool & a trickster.)

There is only one remedy. Crack on & write another.

And hereby hangs my dilemma. My plan was to return to the now mythical manuscript known as The Next Book. It’s been the next book twice now. Working title RiverBook, I began it before Ghostbird was accepted & carried on writing it between Ghostbird & Snow Sisters. Abandoned it in fact to write Snow Sisters. And then again to write the one I’ve just finished. Now there’s a new story wearing down my pencils, insisting I write it. (I’m making notes in my head as I type this, for goodness sake.)

RiverBook feels like the past & yet I still love it. It has an older woman main protagonist & we need more of them. It references my (very sideways) take on the selkie myth. It’s a completed first draft. I have to make a decision, see which word birds whisper the loudest.


Onward & sideways…

*Edna O’Brien
~ House of splendid Isolation

Unexpected book review in blogging area



You are being treated, dear reader, because I don’t want to wait until September, when this book is published.
It’s my pleasure to offer my review of The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech.


As a storyteller, with every new book she writes, Louise Beech demonstrates a remarkable ability to reinvent herself. Although she returns to familiar motifs (which I love because I enjoy recognising them), each of her books presents the reader with a new scenario. The Lion Tamer Who Lost took me on a genuinely unexpected and fascinating trajectory. To Zimbabwe (with lions) and into a gay love story with a sadness at its heart that cracked mine.

Ben goes to Africa to realise a childhood dream to work with lions, and finds himself in a situation he could never have imagined. Andrew hides a wish in a box, which when it comes true, rips his world apart. Ben’s and Andrew’s paths keep crossing, and it may or may not having something to do with fate.

Gay men and their love affairs are rarely my go-to story of choice. But it is impossible not to be affected by Ben and Andrew’s relationship. By the authenticity and utter poignancy of it. By their responses to a tragedy that unfolds and over which they have little control. The characters are so well drawn, the relationship so sensitively observed, I was reminded of Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter. (I adore Gale because his male, gay characters are always relatable.) And that’s the trick, Beech has pulled off. A love story which resonates regardless of our (my) assumed preferences.

Which only goes to show.

Be careful who you love’ reads one of the straplines on the cover of the book. Be careful what you read: I turned the cover and fell headlong into a wonderful surprise. Because nothing about this story disappoints. The African setting, the excellent writing, and above all, the immaculate storytelling. It’s a cleverly constructed book too. I loved the chapter headings which give us a glimpse of the story within the story.

Another triumph. A beautifully crafted book which will do a great deal to further an understanding of gay relationships. From a writer coming into her power.

With huge thanks to Karen Sullivan at #OrendaPress for sending me a proof copy.

You can pre-order the book here.

Letting go of the lovely…


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

It’s highly likely I’ve used the above heading before. (And I’ve definitely written about editing.) No matter – my blog my repetition. Apposite in any case. Editing involves digging out the repetition. And much more besides. I’m on the 84,670,943rd pass & the excess keeps on keeping on… Were it not for chocolate & wine I might well have gone quite mad.

My writing co-conspirator has her head down too. (For those of you who don’t know, Janey & I are are the sole members of the smallest writing group in Wales.) Since her hip op we’ve had to meet less often but we never stop comparing notes. (I think she’s on draft 62,897,504…)

I’m doing my best to stay serene. On the surface at least – drifting like a lily on a lake, looking as if I know exactly what I’m doing. Under the water, trust me, I’m kicking the mud.


My bête noire is a tendency to ramble. To embellish my stories with far too much exposition & description. My mentor & first editor calls it ‘the lovely’ & has, from the beginning of our collaboration, bid me be rid. She may no longer be my editor, believe me dear reader, as I edit Book 3 it’s like she’s in the room… Which is a good thing.

An old Facebook post from a very famous writer – who I’m not going to name in the interests of playing nicely – recently emerged. In it, she declared she was no longer going to allow her manuscripts to be edited. Quote: “I felt that I could not bring to perfection what I saw unless I did it alone.”


The thing went viral & of course, everyone has an opinion. Mine echoes what seems to be the popular view: Stop talking, famous writer! Shush now & be grateful! Being well & professionally edited is a privilege which we scorn at our peril. (And a best-selling author would surely have access to top-notch editorial advice.) There is a legion of writers out there who never get the opportunity.

And so forth. I’m off to unmuddy the waters. Please send chocolate.