Island Life & catching up


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Not only are the hills shrouded in mist this morning, they’re littered with whirling, sideways snowflakes. Trés pretty, but yes… I think all that needs saying about unseasonal weather has been said. And having written about it at length in Snow Sisters,* I feel my work here really is done.

I didn’t write a blog post last week – largely due to the nature of the current Work in Chaos which required my attention. ie: My obsession with wordcount needed taking in hand. Mercifully, it’s a thing of the past & I’m returned to writing terra firma. And a satisfying session with my mentor gifted me a new bag of breadcrumbs. The wood now feels more manageable; the last leg of the narrative less haphazard.

My inner excited writer is delighted. Sometimes, all we need is to be asked a few pertinent & thoughtful questions: ‘Would she want to do this?’ And ‘ Why doesn’t she do that?’ (Sisters you see – tricksy creatures…) And so forth. All grist to my proverbial & something for the word birds to think on too, while they cwtch down to wait out this unexpected snow. (It’s not giving up…)

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I shall dance in it – metaphorically you understand – & wait for them.

* “Sometimes it snows in April”
~ Prince



Writing by numbers


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Those of you who keep up with my ramblings (thank you, dear reader – you are my favourite) may have spotted a recent hint of wordcount mithering. Once upon a time, it hardly concerned me. I am my mother’s daughter. She was a great one for saying things took as long as they took. Driving to Rhyl on holiday for instance: ‘Are we there yet?’ And Ma insisting that knowing how many miles we still had to cover didn’t help one bit, so my sister & I may as well give over.

For years, wordcount struck me as something similar: it wasn’t how many words I wrote each day, it was the process that mattered. Showing up & writing what I could happily conjure. I was almost dismissive of wordcount. It was a hindrance to creativity & could wait until it became important to someone. Like an editor.

Perhaps the pressure of writing a third book was what changed things for me, saw me gradually getting caught up in wordcount worry. And an actual numbered goal. (90 k to be precise.)

Recently, I’ve found myself far too hung up on numbers. At about 70 k or so, I began eyeing the thin blue line that is the Word toolbar, checking the damn thing every five minutes. If I didn’t get a minimum of 1,000 words a day down, it felt like a fail. And it was at pretty much this point I lost my way for a week or two. I ran out of breadcrumbs & found myself running round the wordy wood in circles.

The plot was quite literally lost.

For a while, frankly, writing became a chore. This has never been the case with me. Never. I was still showing up & banging away but it felt like pressure.

Yesterday I had an email conversation with a friend. As we chatted about our ‘next book’ & the usual concomitant pressures, she reminded me that the most important thing was to enjoy the writing, for it’s own sake. And it occurred to me that I was in the process of becoming my own worst enemy. For a short precious time, I’d stopped enjoying myself.

And it was the wretched wordcount doing it. What I’d lost sight of was that I’m on track to finish this book & to do it fairly soon. As things stand, it’s coming out at roughly the same length as the other two. And that’s the magic. There’s an instinct at play – mine – & it’s been there from the beginning. My story knows the way. All I need to do is show up. Get the words down & enjoy myself.

Listen to my mummy – my very own Irish word bird, gone these past eighteen years but still whispering in my ear.

‘It takes as long as it takes, acushla.’

BIRD HAIR mags phelan stone
Picture © Mags Phelan Stones

Up the down staircase (with a parachute?)


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

It’s highly likely I’ve used the above title before. (Sans the parachute reference.) No matter – if the cap fits & so forth.

Two weeks ago I was feeling a bit aimless. After waffling on about Saggy Middle Syndrome (Except it’s Further On & a Bit Of  a Worry) & my options, I knuckled down. That was the plan at any rate. Monday morning found me knowing what I wanted to write (what I needed to write) only quite lost because the way in alluded me. It’s a thing with me – every now & then I find myself armed with a good scene or chapter & stumped, because I have no opening line.

It took me two days to write a single chapter.  I was all over the place – the words were there but without that essential first line, it had no heart. Good first lines aren’t confined to the opening chapter of a book. Every chapter needs to entice. (Closing ones are pretty important too.) My enticing skills had deserted me until – in the end (so to speak) – it was a simple as this:

She hadn’t closed the curtains.

Who knew? And don’t ask me where those five words came from – I have no idea, only that some dear bird took pity on me & left them in the edges of my hair. I was off & it’s been a lovely week. Writing early each morning – still in my PJs – putting in the hours before my bit of the internet woke up.

I still have no idea if this story is a flyer – I think it is but there are no guarantees. It’s well quirky & in places quite off the wall. Bits of it please me hugely – lots of it will need serious attention.

Above all – I’m mad about my new sisters. I love them, even though a good deal of the time they lead me a merry dance & it is like going the wrong way up (or down) an escalator. If I hang on to the invisible parachute though, I’m fine.

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As for my ghost, dear reader, I adore her. Would you like a little more?

   It isn’t my job to make things easy for you, Ida – I am not yet at peace. Until I am, I’m tricksy. I’m the tick of that old clock and the wordless whispers in your cobwebbed sleep. I’m the scent of apples and soot and feathers. I slip through open windows, in and out on your whim now, not mine. I drift through woman-shaped keyholes as easily as breathing. Slip and smile and you taste me on your bitten lip.
© Carol Lovekin

And that, as they say, is your lot!

Dust – & writing about nothing


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As it’s Sunday, my first thought was – after tea & my morning read – what could I conjure by way of a blog post? With the best will in the world, I have virtually nothing. I’ve reached the stage with my Work in Chaos that some writers refer to as Sagging Middle Syndrome. As I’m well over half-way I’m not sure whether to panic or relax. Relaxing feels like a bit of a risk & I’ve never been keen on panic. Takes up too much precious energy.

I could ignore the whole thing & do the dusting. (You could create bas-relief on my furniture right now – no really, you could.) My bet is I’m not alone when I say, housework is the first casualty of the First Draft. I’m disinclined though – it is Sunday after all…

As you were then – as I was. There’s only one thing for it. Summon the word birds & perhaps, prove to myself that if I can’t tap-dance on a tightrope – which is why I took up writing in the first place – I can cycle on a telegraph line!


Writing about nothing is a piece of cake.

Are we sitting comfortably?


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

In a couple of months I’m giving a short talk at the Llandeilo Literary Festival. It’s lovely to be invited & I’m looking forward to it. Although I still experience a frisson of nerves when called upon to face an audience, these days I do so with more confidence. In particular, I like engaging with people; with readers who have questions. These are my stories & I know them – there’s very little to be nervous about frankly. My previous experience of audience participation has been 99% good. (Asking about the 1% will get you nowhere! There’s always one?)

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When Christoph – our hardworking leader – asked me for some advance info for publicity (not least the title of my talk), I had to think on my feet. The festival doesn’t happen until April but needs must & I like an organised chap.

Niche is a hackneyed description & frankly, meaningless. It tends to mean you don’t know where you fit. And that’s a concern for those of us who write outside of the box. I was ‘niche’ for quite a long time. It’s taken two books for me to understand where my writing fits. Although I still have issues with genre per se, I’ve done the rounds & find I fit – if I fit anywhere – on the edges of the Gothic.

My characters are as ordinary as they are extraordinary – not least my sisters. Like me they find themselves unexpectedly thrown into this half-lit world & we all follow the breadcrumbs.

In both my books, each one of my girls find her courage. Cadi in Ghostbird; Verity & Meredith in Snow Sisters have all taken me away from the ‘normal’ into the world of magical possibility where, although the dark can get a bit scary, love makes sure that ultimately it’s made of hope. And together we retain a measure of control over the genre we’ve found ourselves in.

I make no apology for liking a bit of creepy – it makes life exciting & it’s fun to write. Knowing Christoph was waiting, I winged it & came up with a title for my talk: Genre, Ghosts & the Gothic. It’s up on the website now & on the promotional literature, so no turning back. I’ll take my ‘girls’ with me. Perhaps offer a sideways introduction to my new story & one of my new girls…


Turning on the half landing, Ida glanced out of a small window and below her saw how the land stretched, unfolding into the distance as if towards the edge of the world. The sombre hills were a book falling open at different pages, each one telling a new story in a secret language.
She had no language anymore. And the new story she had deliberately chosen for herself scared her.

I know how she feels…

…time to write…


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

There are several ways to interpret those three words. Prefixes abound & the writers among you will know them. You, dear reader, can almost certainly guess & guess well.

Having, needing, making, finding & the ubiquitous: I don’t have… twin sister to: there is no… 

There are more of course & you are welcome to reply & add to the list. In my world though, the one that most resonates is the one I wake up to each morning: This is my time to write…

With my birthday on the horizon & the knowledge that another year has flashed by (Hello?) the urge to write doesn’t flag. I’m over half way through Book 3 & have another one sitting, like a patient bird on an egg, until such time as I can give it my full attention. There is a completed first draft of another story, set aside too many times albeit for good reasons. And in the outer reaches of my thoughts, caught in the ends of my hair, are more. I sense these stories like ghosts, not quite ready to reveal themselves. (Like most ghosts, they need only kindness & a little attention to be heard.)

It isn’t always easy to find time to write – make space for your craft. Women (mothering & bread-winning ones in particular) have the day-to-day to deal with. I’ve been there & largely done that. I waited a long, long time to get to here: twice-published, a little more confident, hungry to be a ‘real’ writer rather than one making excuses not to take the risk; to say, I have a story & I’m going to submit it. Now I’m writing to keep up. I have no time to waste, so yes, this is my time to write.

Thank you for listening.

And by the way, I collect bird frocks & I wear them…

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“Writing is a verb” *


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

With three weeks of the new year behind me, I’ve effectively managed to swerve any notion of resolutions. I am resolved to write. I’m always resolved to write! Writing is my activity of choice.

Back in the day (the Live Journal days) I wrote reams about my writing process. LJ was my La La Land of Hope while I waited for my moment, largely convinced it would never come. When it did, I created this blog, because it’s a more professional looking site & I was keen to attract a bigger audience. By & large it’s worked. Trolls notwithstanding (we all get them: mysterious beings who come & go) I have a nice following. No idea how many read me & although I appreciate each & every one of them/you who engage & comment, if others don’t, it doesn’t matter.

I still write for me, the difference is, I’ve now published two books. When people ask me what I do & I say, ‘Write books’ they nearly always reply, ‘What are they about?’ (I do the same thing myself.) Nowadays I tell them I write ghost stories with a dash of Welsh Gothic.

On Twitter yesterday, Joanne Harris (@joannechocolat) posted another in her series of Ten Tweets. This one concerned Ten Ways To Get People To Read Your Work & number 9 reads: Blog about your writing process. Post extracts from your work, and engage with other writers.

Two out of three isn’t bad. As for the middle bit, ever since I first began writing I’ve guarded my words. All my writing is first & foremost for me – including my stories. If they don’t please me, why would I imagine anyone else would want to read them? So yes, I like them polished before I share. I would never share from a work in progress (work in chaos?) & for fear of coming across as a diva, up until now I’ve shied away from even published extracts. But, as someone lovely said to me recently, time to get over myself…

Today then, I’m following Ms Harris’ advice. If you’re still with me, dear reader, please find below, a short extract from my second book, Snow Sisters.

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Ghosts linger in the seams and cracks in time; the still places between human breath.
In Meredith’s dreams there was now no ambiguity. She woke with them intact, each detail imprinted. She didn’t know what to do with the weight of Angharad’s sadness. In the darkness, she made her way to Verity’s room, curled in beside her sister, and for once, Verity didn’t complain.
‘I wish she’d stop crying,’ Meredith said. ‘It’s the saddest thing in the world.’
Verity gazed at her sister’s face. Her skin was as thin as a soap bubble.
‘A bad thing really did happen to her, Verity.’
‘Yes, I think it did.’
‘Even though it’s hard for her, she doesn’t want to leave anything out.’
‘You mustn’t leave anything out either, Meri – tell me everything you can remember. I can’t bear for you to be sad too.’
‘Are we in this together then?’
Verity recalled the desolate look on the ghost’s face, how she disappeared through the wall; she felt the snowball against her skin and the sensation of fainting. The idea that she had imagined any of it now seemed improbable. Whatever purpose or plan the ghost had, Verity wasn’t going to leave her sister to deal with it alone.
And if I deny Angharad, Meri won’t. she won’t stop, whatever I decide.
‘I promise.’
Meredith nodded. Beneath her eyes the skin was still blemished with fatigue.
‘Have you had any sleep?’
‘I must have or I wouldn’t have dreamed.’
Verity stroked Meredith’s hair away from her forehead. ‘It doesn’t count. You need proper sleep without dreaming. Why don’t you stay here? I’ll read you a story if that helps.’
Meredith’s eyes brightened.
‘Will you get Nelly?’
‘Yes, then a story and we’ll both try and sleep a bit more.’
In Meredith’s room the air was damp. As Verity collected the velvet rabbit she wondered if she was grown up enough to deal with what was happening. She thought about telling her grandmother and knew she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t go back on her word. But thinking about Meredith’s bruised eyes, her determination to help a ghost neither of them could prove existed, she wasn’t sure how long she could keep her promise.

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* Philip Pullman

Being on a list with your sheroes


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Last year, my first novel, Ghostbird, was nominated for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize by the generous blogger, Anne Williams whose blog Being Anne is up there with some of the best on the circuit. When I read the extremely long long list, one the names that stood out was Edna O’Brien. Quite. The actual Edna O’Brien: one of my favourite writers. I was highly amused & for a while one of my passwords was ‘onalistwithednao’brien’ & I’m not even kidding. I lunched out on it for weeks not caring that I was never going to make the shortlist. I was just tickled pink to be on a list with one of my literary sheroes. And indebted to Anne for her generous & genuine support for my book.

(And this year, by the way, one of my sister Honno authors, Sara Gethin, did make the NTB shortlist! For her wonderful book, Not Thomas. I’ve been lunching out on that accolade too!)

With my second novel, Snow Sisters out last September, time flew & all at once it was that time of year. The readers (in particular the book bloggers) began posting their lists of favourite books of 2017.

Back in April 2015 when I got an offer from Honno for Ghostbird, it would never have occurred to me that it would end up on anyone ‘all-time favourites bookcase’ (see Hayley at Rather Too Fond Of Books) or be anyone’s favourite book of the year. Or, that two and a half years on, my second book would not only be considered worthy of inclusion on several lists, in one instance it too would be awarded the top slot. I am indebted to all the book bloggers who chose Snow Sisters & in particular, Linda Hill of Linda’s Book Bag for making it her Book of the Year 2017.

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And there’s this: another of my favourite book bloggers, Anne Cater of Book Connectors fame & randomthingsthroughmyletterbox brought Snow Sisters to the attention of Prima magazine & the book was included as one of 9 Perfect Autumn/Winter reads. Colour me joyful!

There are other people I am indebted to – too many to list to be honest. One or two are fabulous writers who have stunned me by their kindness & ongoing support for my writing. Louise Beech is one, Amanda Jennings is another as are Rebecca Mascull & Su Bristow.

Being on a list with Edna O’Brien will always be my secret thrill but hanging out on so many lists & with such a fabulous gang of tremendous writers has blown me away. My thanks to everyone who has supported my writing, bought my books or reviewed them.

Happy New Year you lovelies.
Be kind, be brave & read books! xXx


A short, true story, for Christmas Eve


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

In 1942, on Christmas Eve, my parents were married. My dad was a soldier, my mother a nurse. Leave was at a premium and it was the only day available. They were together, in love, for thirty-six years, until Daddy died, too young aged only sixty-one.
With rationing still in place, and fabric expensive, a great many wartime brides had to improvise in order to create their wedding dresses. The fabric of choice was parachute silk. Some of it was repurposed nylon silk but a few lucky brides were able to get hold of the real thing.

The following is a true story.

Wedding Dress

It hung on the back of the wardrobe door.
The silk shimmered. A slight movement of air caught the hem. It lifted, rippled and fell back into place. Her fingers still itched from pushing the thimble against the needle. She took such care, the single drop of blood that fell made a tiny red heart and she sewed it into the cuff of a sleeve.
She’d been lucky – real parachute silk was like gold-dust. When he’d handed her the parcel – a trade with a mate from the parachute unit – the smile split her face.
It took her three weeks to make her wedding dress, sewing the long seams by machine, hand-stitching the hem and cuffs. Tiny pearl buttons taken from an old cardigan fastened the dress at the back.
In wartime, even a wedding was no excuse not to make do and mend.
Pulling the dress over her head, she gasped as the silk slithered along her arms, across her hips and down her thighs, pooling at her feet. Fastening the froth of veiling to her dark hair she stood in front of the mirror. She looked so beautiful, two doves came to the window just to gaze at her.
Letting out a slow breath, her finger touched the place where the secret heart lay and she made her best wish.

Mum & Dad

Outside the church, under a cold Christmas Eve sky, her best friend handed her a silver horseshoe.
‘For luck.’
She breathed in the earthy scent of the chrysanthemums: another winter gift to wartime brides.
‘I won’t need luck, but thanks, it’s perfect.’
‘Come on then, kiddo, he’ll be waiting.’
‘I’m worth waiting for.’
After the ceremony, in a room set aside for pictures, the photographer waved them closer together. She thought how handsome her new husband looked, in his freshly dry-cleaned suit and with a buttonhole borrowed from her bouquet.
As she slipped her hand into his, she felt him curl his fingers around hers.
‘Your dress, it’s lovely,’ he whispered. ‘You look beautiful.’
‘You look like Frank Sinatra.’
As they smiled into the camera, he brushed her fingers again. ‘You wait, I’m going to buy you a bunch of mums every Christmas Eve for rest of our lives.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Forever.’

And so forth…


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Island Life, Word Birds & Process

Another of my random, insular ramblings…

I’m mired in delicious muddle. I ought to be terrified but I’m not because I can smell this story – deep in the seams of the forty thousand words I’ve written so far: a sweet scent I can’t quite identify.

And Mistress Crow is indefatigable, overseeing my days & keeping me on my toes like a feathered slave driver…

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I always know how my stories begin & usually, how they’re likely to end. That said, even if I have a fair idea about the bit in the middle, I still have to make it work: find a way to get the narrative to carry me from the opening to the closing chapter.

My writing is rarely linear & although I always create a detailed outline, as I get the bit between my teeth & my characters begin to let me in, I often find myself writing extended scenes in isolation. By definition, there’s little or no continuity to them, & not much structure. Which is both part of the problem & exciting. Each one is an unconscious exploration of both my characters & my various plot scenarios. Some are random conversations which can occur to me in the unlikeliest of places. (Often in the bath.)

Speaking of the unexpected, having decided to change from an experimental Third Person Present back to plain Third, I ‘wasted’ several hours of writing time this past week ‘resetting’ my manuscript. The upside was an unavoidable but joyful ‘edit as I go’ scenario which reinforced my conviction that I’m on to something. The ‘voices in my head’ are becoming clearer – the way untangles, one chapter at a time…