Category Archives: Novels

In NANO revision, no-one can hear you scream…


So, it’s like this: I completed my 50,000 word draft for NANOWRIMO back in November.  I told myself I would put it aside for the whole of December (which was just as well given the whole Christmas thing…) and in the new year, with the perspective which comes with distance, I’d pick it up again, and start work in earnest knocking it into shape.  Well, we’re now two days into the new year, and have I joyously re-read my draft? Have I fixed the holes in the plot?  Eradicated the contradictions?  Er….what do you think?

Partly this is my usual procrastination.  There’s no better housewife than a writer with revisions to do.  I can find all manner of other jobs which absolutely need to be done before I can even think about sitting down with such a big project as a whole novel.  I’ve written my piece for one of the writers’ groups.  I’ve subbed a story to one of the women’s mags.  I’ve even taken down the Christmas decorations.  But I’ve not touched the novel.

I wish it were just laziness – the awful thought of having to come up with solutions to the problems I know currently exist with the book.  But it’s more than that – it’s fear.  The whole joy of NANO is the liberation in putting your inner editor to one side and simply getting on with the writing.  But now I have to invite the inner editor back.  And I’m scared that when I start reading, she’s going to hate the whole thing.

Tomorrow.  Tomorrow, I’ll make a start.  Maybe.  Unless I can find some ironing to do… 😉

NANOWRIMO: The Finish Line!


It’s been a bit of a slog, but today I’ve finished NANOWRIMO 2014 – with a day in hand – phew!


The first scrappy rough draft of my novel (working title “With One Stone”) will now go into hibernation for a month, while I catch up with a month’s worth of life (plus Christmas shopping!).  I’ve not yet read it through, but I already know it will be littered with contradictions and huge unexplained jumps in the narrative, but by the time I get round to looking at it again with a fresh eye in the new year, I hope I’ll be in a position to make it all fit together – somehow.

At the bottom of this post is the draft blurb I wrote at the beginning of NANO – it’ll be interesting to see if the book turns out anything like the blurb!

Oh, and just before I sign off and sag into a post-nano heap in front of the log burner, I’d just like to say thank you to Paul (OH) for putting up with NANO month, a house that’s even more untidy than usual, and even fewer meals cooked than he might reasonably expect.  Having a supportive family really does make all the difference.  I’m also going to thank my writing and reading friends in advance given that I will probably ask them for feedback on the first proper draft in the new year…  Oh and finally, a mention for Mark Pearce from one of my writing groups, who undertook – and won – NANO this year for the first time.  Congrats, Mark!


With One Stone – the Blurb:

Jonathan says it’s the perfect solution – they’ll rent the cottage in Wales for a few weeks.  He can do the research for his new book (an exploration of the deterioration of the rural economy), and Caroline…well, she can have a much needed break after all that hassle with work and the redundancy.  It’ll be great to leave the hustle and bustle of the city for a while – have a complete change of scene.

But for Caroline, a cottage in the country, miles away from all her friends, and miles out of her comfort zone, might not be quite such a good idea.  With her husband obsessively focused on his research, she finds she has too much time on her hands, too much time to think.  When they accidentally stumble upon a long abandoned mental asylum, Jonathan’s work, and Caroline’s family history collide with terrifying consequences.


5 Places to Find NANOWRIMO Ideas


So, it’s day 10, and the first flush of enthusiasm is over.  You had some good days at the outset and you thought the whole process was going to be a breeze.  But suddenly the words have dried up.  Your characters are standing there, blinking at you, waiting for you to give them something to do or say.  But you’ve drawn a blank.

What do you do?  Give up?  No!  Start something new? No!  You just need an injection of new ideas.  But where to find them?

Fortunately, your brain is on your side.  One of the qualities that is so appealing (and useful) about the mind is its desire and ability to make links, find patterns, add new knowledge to its existing store.  You will know this from when you were a kid, worrying about something.  As soon as something was on your mind, that thing, or things relating to it, would be everywhere around you – your teacher would mention it in class, you’d overhear a conversation relating to it on the bus, there’d be a telly programme about it in the evening.  Had the world somehow discovered your secret fear and decided to taunt you with it?  No, of course not.  Was it all just spooky coincidence?  Maybe.  But more likely it was just that because you were already thinking about the thing, your mind was tuned in to finding new bits of information relating to it.

You can harness that power now as a writer.  Try to keep your novel in your head all the time, ticking over at the back of your mind while you’re going about your everyday life.  And look for ideas everywhere:

1) Stick the radio on in the car on the way to work or the supermarket.  Listen to the news or any random programme – chances are you’ll hear something which links to your novel, or triggers an idea in your brain.  Read the paper in your lunch hour.  Not the main headlines – go to the smaller articles, the more obscure items.  Or read a novel – preferably unrelated to yours.

2) Ask someone to give you a random word or a setting or an event which you have to weave into your daily word count.  The apparent restriction will focus the mind and you’ll be surprised how you can shoe-horn in some completely bizarre idea.

3) Get out and chat to people you don’t normally talk to.  Everyone has a wealth of personal experiences – a random anecdote could take your plot in a new direction.

4) Go on a course/listen to a talk/learn a new skill.  Stimulate the mind.

5) Incorporate your writers’ group task into your novel.  You won’t have time to write something new, but if you can build it into your word count, you won’t have lost anything.  And chances are, you’ll have an interesting new slant on the topic area.

The most important thing is to keep writing, even if you think it’s drivel, even if it’s not linear but something from later in the story – you can go back and fill in the blanks afterwards.  Keep adding to that word count – that’s the only thing that matters.

Onwards!  🙂

And they’re off! #NANOWRIMO


Day 1: Gulp.  Blank page, always very daunting.  And that vague sense that perhaps you should not have wasted October idly chatting about the possibility of doing NANO,  or designing a mock up cover to upload to the site, but rather should have concentrated on building a proper plot line etc.

But hey, we begin anyway.  So far, 1920 words (satisfyingly coming up as 1930 words when uploaded to the site owing the vagaries of word count systems).  I could stop here, or I could try to do more, thus building myself a nice fat “word cushion” (as a friend and fellow past-Nano-er has just described it) for the rest of the week when I’ll no doubt be much less productive.  I am trying to keep the pace slow initially to give me time to develop character and storyline, but with sufficient hooks to keep the reader (and me) interested.

This is the first year when I didn’t already have a strong feeling about the opening sentence or scene – so the first few lines were probably the hardest.  Now I have a tone for the book, and a sense of place, and am slowly drip feeding little pieces of backstory info into the current narrative.  So far so good.  But I suspect there’s trouble ahead – probably somewhere around day 4 or 5!

If you’re NANOing too, best of luck out there.  Keep the faith, and if you have the time, let me know how you’re getting on.  🙂

Kim & the Carnegie – an inspirational tale!


Kim Slater, fellow MA student, and now successful debut novelist has had an amazing bit of news this week.  Her book, Smart, has been nominated for the Carnegie award – the medal presented for an outstanding book for children and young people.  There are 91 titles on the long list (to view them all, visit:, each of which must have been nominated by a member of CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, and judged against a specific list of criteria (given on the website).

Notwithstanding Smart is a cracking read (for adults too), there’s something rather special about seeing a story which you saw from the initial idea stage blossoming into a fully fledged novel.  Those of us in David Belbin’s Children’s & Young Adult Fiction Class will remember Smart when it was originally a 3,000 word piece.  It’s a tribute to Kim’s hard work that it’s grown into such a success.

If you’ve not yet read Smart you can find out more here:  Fingers crossed for the short list, Kim :0)

A Top Tip from Two Published Authors


I’ve been fortunate enough this week to attend two writing related events where I’ve heard from published authors – and there was one interesting common element in both.

The first was a talk at one of my local writers’ groups from Catherine Cooper, author of the children’s series which begins with The Golden Acorn. Catherine has based the fictional world of her books on the Shropshire area where she lives and writes, and it was clear from the way she spoke about her work that for her it’s far more than just about the writing.  Catherine, who was originally a primary school teacher, probably spends as much time marketing her books, designing and making props, drawing illustrations, and going into schools to work with children, as she does actually writing.  She has an extremely strong online presence, with a website, Facebook and Twitter account – all of which she uses in an effective way to support her fiction, rather than as a jolly distraction from the actual task of writing.  She is methodical about the way she deals with her emails (she gets about 200 a day from fans and so forth), and in maintaining her website, supported by links to social media.  Having started by going down the self-publishing route, Catherine has always been energetic and determined in her approach to selling her own work – so that even now, in the luxurious position of having a publisher, she is still hard at work on the marketing side.

The second event was the launch party for Kim Slater’s debut novel Smart.  Kim, who was a fellow student on the MA at Nottingham Trent, started out by writing a short story for our Children’s and Young Adult Literature module.  We all loved it (something, I have to say, that was unusual – there’s none so critical as a fellow writer!), and given such a positive reception, Kim worked on the initial idea, building it into a full length young adult novel. The launch was held in Waterstones, where Kim, despite some pre-speech nerves, carried off the evening with aplomb, giving a reading from the book, some background into how the novel had come into being, and finally a brief Q&A.  Afterwards, everyone eagerly surged to pick up a copy of the book for Kim to sign, only to discover that there weren’t enough copies available.  Kim had sold out on the first evening – pretty good going!

So what was the common theme?  Well, obviously the sheer amount of hard work which went into the journey from unknown writer to published author – the resilience in the face of umpteen rejections, the faith in one’s own work, and the length of time it takes to see a book finally in print.  But there was something far more tangible which came up in both Catherine and Kim’s ‘how-I-made-it’ stories.  At the outset, each of them had felt they had a strong idea for what should have been a good novel.  Both of them sent their work to a number of agents, but despite some interest, they were not taken on.  And both then paid for their work to be professionally critiqued.

I suppose I’ve always felt the critique to be a bit of a con (let’s face it, it’s only as good as the view of the person who happens to be doing the critiquing) but what I’ve heard this week has changed my view.  In both cases, the feedback from the critique was invaluable.  In Catherine’s case, it helped her to separate out two competing plotlines in her initial draft, allowing her to re-write the book to achieve a much stronger finished story.  In Kim’s case, the person who was doing the critiquing was so impressed by the manuscript that she passed it on to an agent directly – thus bypassing the notorious slush-pile, and ensuring that Kim was at last offered that long sought after representation.

So, if I do ever get to the enviable position of having a decent draft novel, I too will send it off for a professional second opinion.  Perhaps we are too close to our own work, and need a fresh objective eye to help us see the flaws. For both Catherine and Kim, this stage has helped them move from aspiring to published author – something they both deserve after much hard work.



Some Thank Yous!


I have a confession.  Last week there was a moment where I had the following thought regarding this novel competition submission:

‘Why don’t I just give this up?  Why am I putting myself under this pressure?  This isn’t fun, all this writing.  It’s just a chore.  A huge onerous task, hanging over me all the time.’ 

I was having a lot of trouble with the fine tuning, the last 10% which is always my downfall.  I was stuck.  I sent my first chapter to the lovely people at one of my writers’ groups (at the other writers’ group, they’ve already seen this chapter – they were there at the inception when I thought it was just going to be a short story!).  I didn’t expect many responses – I’d only given them a couple of days to give me feedback – and I fully appreciate everyone is busy with their own lives and their own writing.  But amazingly, I had lots of feedback.  They’d spotted some typos and had the odd question here and there where bits needed tightening up. Best of all, they gave me lots of encouragement, a little boost to push me over the finish line.  Never mind that I was having problems with a tricky bit of plotting, and trying to condense the whole into the dreaded synopsis.  A bit of brainstorming with my long-suffering husband, and we found a way out of the muddle.

My entry is now finished.  I’ve just printed it, and the envelope is sealed.  Without all the support I’ve had, I don’t think I’d have done it, so thanks everyone for your help.  Just want you to know I really appreciate it, and hope to return the favour soon.  🙂

In it to win it…writing compeititons


Congratulations to Victoria Slotover, winner of the Erewash Writers’ Full Stop Short Story Competition, with her story The Water’s Edge. Whilst not placed, I’m delighted to have made it to the short list, so a big thank you to Erewash writers for organising. Click the link for the judge’s report:—judges-report.html

Assuming they survive the weather, Exeter Writers are now taking entries for their annual Short Story Competition. Details as follows:

“The first prize is £500, second £250, third £100, plus there is an extra £100 prize for the best story sent in by a writer living in Devon. The word limit is up to 3,000 words and the closing date is March 31st 2014. Stories can be in any genre except children’s. The full rules and a downloadable entry form can be found on our website at or you can obtain an entry form by writing to: Competition, 202 Manstone Avenue, Sidmouth, Devon, EX10 9TL (please enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope). This year, for the first time, you can send your story by email, but you MUST go to the website for details of format and payment. Please read all the rules very carefully and stick to them. Every year a handful of entrants send faulty entries which are disqualified. This is heartbreaking and can easily be avoided by taking a little care.”

And rather more ambitiously, for those of you who’ve self-published a (paper) novel, you might want to take a look at The Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction. For details of conditions, how to enter and entry form visit

Good luck! 🙂

Online Novel Writing Course – Enrol before 19th Jan for cut price fees


One of the great things about belonging to a writers’ group is picking up lots of info about competitions, talks from established writers, special offers and so forth, so I have to say a thank you (thanks, Mark!) for the following info.

The Writers Bureau has started a new online college, and currently has a novel writing course up for grabs for the amazing price of £19! I couldn’t resist, and have just signed up. I’ve not yet looked at any of the materials in detail, but there are 10 modules (covering the process of actually writing the novel, as well as publishing options, and promotion issues), and you can take up to 12 months to complete the course.

If you’ve made it a resolution to write a novel this year, this course might provide a helpful framework to get you started – or some support if you’re flagging at the half-way stage. If you’re interested, sign up before 19th Jan – after which the price goes up to £99.

For more info:

Guest Blog: Andy Rigley talks about his debut novel ‘The Lost Dark’


You’ve had some short stories published, and a few placings in competitions, but you’ve been working on a longer piece of fiction, and now you’re really interested in moving on to a full length novel.

Sound familiar?  If so, you’ll enjoy this interview with Andy Rigley, author of The Lost Dark.  Whilst Andy’s previous writing credits are certainly not to be sniffed at, in this guest blog, he talks us through the process of getting his first novel into print.

Q: First things first – to clear up any misunderstanding, you’re not that one from Wham! are you?

A: Correct. The last I heard, he was running a chip shop. But that’s just internet rumour. I do check up on him from time to time.

Q: So, without giving too much away, tell us a little bit about the book.

A: The Lost Dark is a paranormal horror novel. Jake is excited to find that he has a second shadow, that of a little girl. But he soon finds that he’s not the only one with a second shadow. Although the story predominantly follows Jake and his little girl, there are other weird and wonderful characters, each with very strong ideas about what they want, or don’t want, from second shadows. As the story unfolds, and the characters collide we see just what people will do to get what they want.

Q: You’ve had quite a bit of success with your short stories.  What was it like making the transition to a full length piece of work?

A: As I’m sure is the case with most people, I grew up reading novels, and I still read novels. That love for the novel length story never went away. I only started to read and study short stories relatively recently. While I was writing and publishing shorts, I was also writing The Lost Dark, so strictly speaking there was no ‘transition’ as such. The two went hand in hand. I think it’s important to have multiple projects on the go at once, as they provide breathing space and quite often support for each other.

Q: Did the original idea for the book come to you in a blinding flash of inspiration, or was it more of a slow burn?

A: It came to me in a blinding flash after a slow burn.

Whilst studying for a Certificate in Creative Writing at Nottingham University, we were set a piece of homework: to write a piece of dialogue between a character and an ‘inanimate’ object. All the way home that evening, ideas circled through my head, nothing really made sense. An old shoe? A box of half eaten chocolates?. The blinding flash moment happened exactly how it happens in the opening chapter of the novel. As I was walking home, I noticed I had a second shadow, cast by the street lights. From there the possibilities seemed endless and the story grew.

Q: How long has this book been in development – can you break it down for us in terms of first draft, edits, more edits, and then the publication stage?

A: The first draft took around two years, written part-time in the evenings. And I mean first draft, I didn’t even spell check it until it was finished. I then started my MA in Creative Writing which for the next two years took up a lot of time. I continued to work on The Lost Dark as and when I could – mostly tightening the plot or prose – so you could say the next two years were editing.

With my MA finished, I made a final push to finish the novel. By this point it was self-edited and I was happy with it. I ran the novel through a beta-reader stage, hired a professional editor, and whilst all that was going on, I looked  into publication options, marketing, and cover design. That final push took around five months, but it was a very intense five months, concentrating almost entirely on the project.

Q: You’ve worked with a professional editor on the production of the book – what was that like?

A: It was without doubt one of the best things I did. I think people are sometimes scared of editing, seeing it as some kind of gatekeeper, something that might dig up things you didn’t want to face. As writers, we spend a lot of time, money and energy writing, learning, being critiqued. For me hiring an editor was a very important part of the learning curve. It’s important to remember that an editor doesn’t ‘only’ point out grammatical errors. My editor, Kathryn Koller, was superb. Over a number of passes, she looked at plot, pace, and character, pointing out any weak areas. She was also very understanding of my ideas when I ‘pushed back’ on suggestions. It was very much a two-way thing.

Q: What was the most exhilarating part of the writing process?  And conversely, was there any part which you found more of a chore than a pleasure?

A: The most exhilarating part was when things came together in the plot or characters without me having to work at them. Those moments where you just think, wow this world is alive. When a twist in the plot just happens and leads onto something new and refreshing.

As for chores, There really weren’t that many. Right at the end I guess, things like reading and rereading chapters looking for the tiniest plot-hole, clunky dialogue, or abnormal weather change. That got a bit ‘grating’. And formatting could be a pain. Getting it ‘just so’, then changing it oh so sightly breaking everything you just did in the last format. I’ve lost track of the amount of ‘Backup just before first line indent change’ type files I have.

Q: The cover looks great!  Did you design it yourself, or seek professional help?

A: I designed and built the cover myself. I’ve had a misspent childhood playing with image editing software so I thought I could do it. I figured, hey –  if it all goes wrong, I’ll hire a professional.

I already had a very clear image in my head that I wanted to achieve, helped by the fact that the girl on the cover is actually a photo of my daughter. The final image was actually inspired by a video game cover. I spent a lot of time researching book covers online and in book stores. I’m really happy with the result, but the process was very time consuming and mentally challenging. Getting everything pixel perfect and balanced took a lot of patience. I did get feedback from friends, family at various stages which helped a lot.

Q: I get the impression you’ve been quite creative about marketing your book – I’ve seen some of your postcards for instance.  Tell us the thoughts behind your promotion strategy.

A: The marketing is a lot of  fun, and I don’t think there are any limits to it. Anything that gets word out is great, and the more formats I use for that, the better. The physical things, like postcards, also give people something to ‘hold onto’. I think it makes the world of The Lost Dark much more three-dimensional. I remember what it was like as a kid to collect things and be involved in something.

Q: The book is available for Kindle and in paperback format. Can you talk us through how you chose a printer/publisher for the paperback version?

A: I went with Createspace after researching other print on demand publishers such as Lulu and Lightningsource. For me, at this stage, it offered everything I wanted. The process of reviewing and releasing your book is fairly straightforward. The sales channels provided ensure that your readers can easily get hold of the paperback (it sits alongside your Kindle version online).

I think you have to look at how you want to distribute your novel, how much money you want to invest, how much ‘help’ you might need, then make a personal decision based on what the publisher has to offer you and your reader.

Q: So, with the first book under your belt, what’s the next project?

A: I still have plans for supporting The Lost Dark. Including information blurbs and  giveaways I love the idea of cross-media projects revolving around the world I’ve created, and I want people to be involved in that.

As for upcoming work, I’ve a  written a children’s steam-punk novel.

I’ve also put together a collection of my previously published work called About the Size of It. I’m looking into the possibility of making that available through a small independent publisher.

I’m also working on my next novel The Pattern of Birds. It’s an uncanny tale of a girl who lives in Ravenscar – The Town That Never Was.

Q: And lastly, where should we look to find out more about your writing?

A: For The Lost Dark check out

For more about me, my projects, and previously published work, check out

The Lost Dark cover Postcards for The Lost Dark promotion