Thursday, 15 December 2011

Candles and Christmas Trees

Christmas is almost here – racing up on me – every time I blink it’s a little bit closer. The school holidays are about to start. Let the festivities begin!

Looking back over my recent blog posts I see I haven’t been telling you very much about my writing. That’s probably because I don’t have anything big or exciting to report. I’ve spent the year rewriting, and rewriting. And between the rewriting I’ve been working on the WIP.

I have to have something on the boil in the background. Whenever I’m waiting to hear back about the first novel I can open the file and vanish into a different world, re-acquaint myself with a new set of characters, and stop worrying about what happens next.

And now here I am, as the year draws to a close, and I’ve just written those wonderful words – ‘The End’.

It’s a first draft – very rough I admit and I need to give it a thorough working over. But everything I’ve learned over the past year has gone into it – and you know what? I’m really quite excited about it.

Will it fly? Who knows? Will 2012 be the year? I hope so.

But for now I must mull wine and bake mince pies. I’d just like to wish all my blog readers a Merry Christmas and wish you all publishing success in 2012. Thank you for joining me on my journey.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Rocks Beneath our Feet.

Everything tells a story, if you just know how to look.

I remember my very first Geology field trip, standing in an old quarry staring at a wall of rock – but what a story that ancient rock face told.

I saw an ancient beach. I saw the ebb and flow of the tides and the ripples that the waters left in the sand, now frozen in stone.

I saw how the seas receded and the vegetation flourished, plants taking root alongside a river channel – I saw millions of years pass by – and then…

Somewhere, not very far off a volcano erupted. One short cataclysm. The lava flooded my lush valley. Only the roots of the plants remained in their scorched soil, everything above ground destroyed by the molten flood.

There are stories all around us, in everything we see and hear, in the rocks beneath our feet and the landscape all around. We only have to know how to look.

Monday, 28 November 2011

The Mars Mission....

I couldn't resist posting this, having seen the launch pad in preparation less than a month ago. It would have been something to be there and watch the actual launch!

I've always been fascinated by Mars... by the intriguing possibility that there may once have been life there...

So what will they find I wonder?

Friday, 25 November 2011

A Tale of Two Cats

I have a pink begonia on my kitchen windowsill. It’s starting to fade now but it has been beautiful all autumn. Lots of people have admired it, and when they do I tell them its story.

Back at the end of the summer, as I was waving my husband off to work, I spotted a badly injured cat dragging itself along on the opposite side of the road.

Well I couldn’t just leave it could I? But I did recognise it. This was a cat my children often saw, lying in the sunshine outside a row of houses in the lane opposite, who they would stop to pet.

So off I went knocking on doors.

Now it seems that everyone around here owns a black and white cat. (myself included). The people from the first door I knocked on went sprinting down the road in a panic – it wasn’t their beloved Skunky but they thought they knew which house it came from.

So I found his owner. He was called ‘Little’ (probably because he wasn’t) and we rushed back to where he lay being comforted by my kids. I fetched my cat basket and a blanket and we carefully lifted him in. And off she took him to the vets.

Later that afternoon her sons called round to return my basket. Inside she had put this lovely begonia to say thanks. Sadly Little had been put down. But every time I look at those lovely pink flowers I think of him.

And now Skunky has gone missing. His owners are putting up posters all round the village. I really hope he comes home soon.

Mimsy is curled up on my knee as I type. Today she will be getting extra big cuddles.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

After the Call...

A while ago I linked to this fabulous 'After the call' series that Caroline Tung Richmond has been running over on her blog.

Well this fascinating post has just gone up over at the Greenhouse blog which tells the same story only from a Agent's perspective. Check it out!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Hell Bottom

In the hills behind my house is a network of footpaths and on one a sign saying ‘Hell Bottom’. So I decided to follow it and see where it led, and I came to this place.

It’s been a fine house in its day but I can’t help wondering – Who lived here? What happened? Why did they leave?

What a brilliant hideout it would make for one of my characters!

And why on Earth is it called ‘Hell Bottom’?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Rocket Science

I’ve been rather quiet in the cyber world recently – you may not have noticed since I left a couple of posts programmed in to appear while I was away – but I’ve been in Florida, doing the Disney thing with the husband and kids.

For me the highlight was this place – the Kennedy Space Centre - just look at all those lovely rockets!

It’s incredible, isn’t it, to think that we sent men to the moon with 1960s technology in space craft with less computing power than I have on my mobile phone! It just goes to show what we can achieve if only we put our minds to it.

So here I am back to October rain and falling leaves. But there was a nice surprise waiting for me – my contributor’s copy of the September issue of Aoife’s Kiss which contains one of my short stories ‘Down to the Sea’. This story was accepted over a year ago and I’d quite forgotten about it.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Good out of Bad

We were discussing the review comments you see on the front of books the other day. Someone had read something that they felt didn't fit with any off the comments on the cover and was wondering why it should be.

And so we started talking about how these comments could really be taken out of context. Maybe "I was blown away..." really came from a comment that said "I was blown away by how awful this book is."

So we thought we'd play a little game - find a really bad review of something and extract a few choice phrases that make it sound like a good review!

It turned out to be rather fun!

So if you ever get a bad review - why not try this - and turn it into a good one!

Monday, 17 October 2011


Last month the skies were filled with darting swallows, the breeze carried their cries and the air hung sweet with the smells of summer.

But the day came when I looked up and the sky was empty. The swallows had gone.

The leaves curl brown. The days shorten and the sunset creeps ever westward along the ridge.

The seasons turn.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Booker Debate 2011

Last night I took part in the Booker debate at the Octagon Theatre in Yeovil. Interesting because I was the only person on the panel who loved their allocated book. So will the Booker judges feel the same? We'll have to wait until next week to find out!

But if you haven't yet read "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes then I can't recommend it strongly enough!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Beneath the Overgrowth

From a distance this looked like just another clump of trees in the corner of a field, but when I got closer I saw it was something else.

Strip away the ivy and creeping overgrowth and there's a building underneath.

And it made me think of what you have to do when giving your work a really good edit - it's very similar - cut away the weeds and diversions and woolly descriptions to reveal the story within.

I asked the farmer what this place was and she told me it was called Jones's Hole. There's a barn, underneath all that ivy, and in the spring, if you go inside, you'll find barn owls nesting.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

My Booker Book...

My Booker Debate book has finally arrived - and I've been allocated this one to read!

Is anyone going to be coming along? 6th October at the Octagon Theatre in Yeovil? Do let me know if you are.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Watching Me?

I walk over the cliffs and drop down to my secret beach to eat my sandwiches.

But as I sit there I get the feeling that I'm being watched.

I look around.

The beach is deserted.

But then I spot him.

There are a number of sea stacks just off the headland. But one of them isn't a sea stack at all - it's a Tyrannosaurus Rex. And he's watching me!

It looks like he's eating a burger. I hope, once he's finished, he doesn't decide to eat me!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Booker Shortlist

The 2011 Booker shortlist has been announced and already it’s the cause of much debate – should this one have been included? Why was that one missed out? In case you haven’t seen it here’s the list….

• Julian Barnes - The Sense of an Ending (Random House/Cape)
• Carol Birch - Jamrach's Menagerie (Canongate);
• Patrick deWitt - The Sisters Brothers (Granta);
• Esi Edugyan - Half Blood Blues (Serpent’s Tail);
• Stephen Kelman - Pigeon English (Bloomsbury).
• AD Miller – Snowdrops (Atlantic);

Next month the YCAA will be holding the annual Booker Debate at the Octagon Theatre in Yeovil, and this year I have been invited onto the panel. So sometime in the next few days one of these books will be winging its way towards me so that I can read it and put together my review.

But which one will I get? And more importantly will I enjoy it?

I’ve taken a look around the net to see what I can find out about the books and the one that sounds most interesting is The Sister’s Brothers. I quite like the idea of a Western being on the shortlist. Jamrach’s Menagerie also sounds like my kind of book – I always like stories set at sea. (Well I am a SeaSerpent).

I’ll let you know as soon as it arrives. And in the meantime, has anyone read any of them?

What did you think?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Review: The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons

I normally try to keep the focus of this blog on YA and children's books, but today I am going to make a brief foray into the world of adult literature. And not only adult - this is a book without a single spaceship, gruesome murder or car chase - so it really isn't my usual fodder. But I'm still going to sing its praises.

Some books beg to be read in a particular setting and this is one of them, so I packed my sandwiches and headed over the cliffs to this beautiful spot, and sat on an empty beach looking out over the sea.

That's Worbarrow Bay ahead of me, and if you've read "The Novel in the Viola" you'll know why I went there.

I simply loved this book. Natasha's passion for the Dorset countryside shines through in her beautiful and evocative descriptions and since that is a love I share (second only to my love of the sea) I really engage with her writing.

I read her first book, "Mr Rosenblum's List" last year (sitting in the summer sunshine in my garden of course) but I felt with this one that her writing had really matured. The plotting tightened.

The story moves at an easy pace, but the shadow of war grows ever darker. My heart bled for Elise. It's a beautiful book that I strongly recommend.

My only disappointment is that it isn't available in hardback. I'd have so liked a copy to sit on my bookshelf next to my hardback Mr R. :-)

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Followfest 200

I turned away and when I looked back I noticed my followers had topped the 200 mark! Yay for followers!

So I'm going to run another followfest - a bit like the one I did when I reached the first 100, but this time I'd like you all to pass it on!

So here's the plan. I've created a little "One To Follow" award and I'm awarding it to ten other bloggers who I really think you ought to be following if you aren't already.

So head over to their blogs and if you like what you see then add yourself as a follower.

And to the bloggers themselves - please take the award and pass it on to ten more bloggers of your choice!

So here are my ten 'One To Follow' Fab Bloggers (tough call this one - there are so many great blogs out there, but I'll leave it to you to pass this on to the ones I've missed!)

Creepy Query Girl - I love this blog - it's seriously sassy and fun!
Adventures in Space - There's a really interesting series called "After the call" running over here - worth a look.
That Elusive Line - an author/illustrator with a book coming out in 2012
To Stalk a Publisher - A Romance author to watch - you'll be hearing more of Emma!
"Living with and Author" - by Brunella Labrador - I just love the whole dog thing that's going on here!
Ellie Garratt - a very lively blog with lots going on that I only stumbled on recently.
Scribble and Edit - another lively blog with lots going on!
The blogger formerly known as... - a real enigma, this one :-)
Spellmaking - a SF author with quite a few publications under his belt - and more to come I'll bet!
Desperately Writing Susan - This is a really new blogger - go on - give her a warm welcome to the bloggosphere!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Star Trek Blogfest

I simply couldn’t resist this one – the temptation to indulge in pure Star Trek geekery (cheers Ellie) was too much – so here you go – my 5 favourite Star Trek Characters are:

(okay, boring but I love his logical view of the world)

The Holographic Doctor in the Voyager series – for being the only character with any real depth amongst a crew of cardboard cutouts!

The borg queen – always good to include a strong female role model (plus the borg have to be the scariest aliens ever)

Jean Luc Pickard – for saying ‘Merde’ on the Bridge of the Enterprise! Shame on you Jean Luc - there’s children watching!

A tribble – no – several tribbles – Oh hang on a minute – lots of tribbles….

Anybody want a tribble?

Aha - a blog visitor - here you go - you are now the proud owner of a Tribble!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Making Hay

They were making hay in the field behind my house and I paused to watch the tractor going back and forth, the bailer towing behind and the bales spitting out into piles.

I watch the bailers every year with the same fascination, and each time I do I remember, many years ago, when there was magic.

We were kids, sitting in the sunshine by the edge of a cornfield, watching a bailer just like this one. And on one of his circuits the farmer stopped.

“You kids,” he said. “You can play with this stack if you want. But don’t go touching any of the others.”

We waited until he had gone.

And then…

Those bales became a fort, and a castle, a dungeon and at one point just an ordinary shop. We fought battles, held sieges and made daring rescues, chasing our enemies across the stubble in the summer sun.

Later the farmer came back with a trailer, loaded them up, and the magic was gone.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Analysis: Maximum Ride. The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

My daughter’s friend introduced her to these and the series turned out to be a huge hit. She’s read the whole lot and is hungry for more. So of course, I read the first one to see what this was all about.

Now as you have probably already gathered I am particularly fond of thrillers. I’ve enjoyed the James Patterson’s adult thrillers that I’ve read – including ‘When the Wind Blows’ which is the book in which the character of Max first appears – albeit in a somewhat different guise. So I was eager to see what his Young Adult fiction was like.

Well this is one rollercoaster of a ride. It hits the ground running and the pace picks up speed from there. There’s no let up – one thrill after another. Whereas in most books the pacing varies between fast and moderate this one varies between very fast and extremely fast. I was almost breathless reading it.

However the disadvantage of this is that there isn’t much room for character development and I never really empathised with Max. I didn’t feel that the other characters had much depth either.

But I don’t think that matters here. What kids relate to best with these characters is their alienation – after all – you can’t get much more alienated than being a mutant kid with wings. And for your average teenager this is going to be a big part of the appeal.

When the book ends it’s very obvious that the story isn’t over by a long stretch. The plot is left hanging. You feel like you’ve only read the first chapter, so it’s not surprising the daughter was champing at the bit to get onto the next one.

Analysis: High Octane Thrills

Friday, 22 July 2011

Coastal Drama

A few weeks ago I walked my local section of the coast path. When I set out there was a thick sea fog, the lighthouse foghorn blaring through the mist. As I walked I watched the fog recede until all I could see was this eerie fog bank out at sea, ships skirting around its edge and the island peeking out from its shrouds.

I paused on the clifftop to admire the view. There was a lone tent pitched in a field and a boat moored up in the bay below.

Idyllic, I thought as I sipped my water.

And then I heard shouting.

I looked back down.

The people on the boat were all having a massive fight; voices raised and fists flying as they leaped at one another. Two bikini clad women jumped to their feet to try to break it up and I watched, fascinated, waiting for the splash.

It didn’t happen. One of them climbed onto the bow of the boat and sat in a sulk staring out to sea. The other started moving stuff around in the stern in grumpy silence.

A few other walkers had also stopped to watch and now we all headed on our way with knowing smiles to one another.

And I couldn’t help wondering what that had all been about. What was the story there?

I’ll probably never know but I’m sure I can make something up. Look out for those people in one of my stories.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Through Other Eyes

When we write we place ourselves into our character’s heads. We look at the world through their eyes.

Yet everyone sees the world very differently. Some people see challenge and adventure all around, while others see frightening things – threats and monsters wherever they look.

Imagine if you were seeing the world for the first time; if you had never seen a tree for instance, and didn’t have the words – branch – leaf - trunk – how would you describe it?

The way your character sees the world can show the reader so much more about that character. Make your descriptions work on more than one level. Show your reader how your character sees their world.

Mimsy has just spotted something – you or I wouldn’t think twice, but Mimsy’s just a little kitten, taking her first steps into the big outdoors.

Can you guess what it is?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Big Reveal

The ‘Reveal’ is pivotal to a good story.

It’s a fine balancing act – what to reveal, when to reveal, and when to hold back. This is particularly important if you are writing crime or thrillers, but applies to all genres.

A well placed reveal drives the story along. And I’m not talking about the one reveal – the big one that comes at, or just before the climax. I’m talking about all the little reveals you need along the way.

It’s a bit like putting together pieces of a puzzle; one where the final picture cannot be seen until all the pieces are in place. As each fragment slots in you can see a bit more, hints of the final image; clues that there’s something bigger ahead. You change your perception, guess again at what the outcome might be. But you also know that it is only when the final piece falls into place that all will be clear.

You have to keep reading.

So, fellow writers, think about what you are revealing and when. Can you hold back and reveal a bit later? Or does the reader need a smaller reveal now?

Mimsy is wondering when to reveal to us where she’s hiding.

Monday, 27 June 2011

A Round up of Reviews

I’ve been catching up on a bit of Children’s and Young Adult reading recently. It’s a good idea to keep up with the genre in which you write and since I’m writing thrillers for a younger audience this is what I’ve been reading:

I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
Teenager John moves from town to town, always on the run, always desperate to fit in. But he has a secret. Once there were nine, three are dead and he is next – he is number four.

Blood Ties by Sophie McKenzie
Theo and Rachel think they know who they are, but when Theo finds out that the father he thought was dead is in fact still alive they discover a truth about their identities that will change everything for ever.

Ice Shock by MG Harris
The second instalment in The Joshua Files - Josh’s search for the truth about his father’s death leads back to Mexico and to the discovery of a shocking secret.

So what did I think of them?

First of all I’d like to say that I enjoyed all three of these in different ways. They were all very readable, but not always that satisfying.

I am Number Four has had a huge amount of hype and yet I found it something of a disappointment. It was all just a bit too predictable, and too obviously setting up the rest of the series. Even so it hooked me in and kept me reading. Yes I enjoyed it but no, I won’t be rushing out to buy the next one.

Blood Ties and Ice shock on the other hand are a far more satisfying read. Both have sound central concepts, engaging characters and quality plotting.

Blood Ties reads very much as a stand alone, although I do see there is a sequel. I particularly like the way the author developed her characters, and how they overcame their respective vulnerabilities. It’s a cracking story that kept me on the edge of my seat.

Ice Shock is the second in a five book series and as a result the series arc is more developed. However this in no way detracts from the story at hand. I read the first book, Invisible City, a while ago, but I think this one is much better. The author left me satisfied and yet wanting more. Now there’s a skill I hope I manage to master one day. I’m pleased to see that books 3 and 4 are already out and the final one will come out next year. Off to the bookshop for me.

Does anyone have any other recommendations in this genre?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Time to Write

It’s the weekend and it’s raining. “Today,” I think, “I’ll get some writing done.”

I head downstairs. There’s a child attached to the computer. “I’m doing my homework. It has to be handed in tomorrow.”

“Okay.” I leave her to it.

A couple of hours later I look in. She’s on Facebook. Cue argument. I disconnect the internet. She goes back to work.

At last she finishes. I take my seat. I read the last couple of pages to get back into the flow. I write a sentence. A gentle purr and the cat jumps onto the desk. She pads about on the keyboard.

I push her off and delete everything she has written. Somehow she has managed to engage some weird function thing that I don’t understand. It takes me the next half hour to sort it out.

I re-open my file. I re-read what I read earlier. I write a sentence. My husband comes in. Phone call for me.

When I get back he’s sat at the computer. “I’ll just be half an hour.” I go and get on with something else.

“Is the computer free now?” I ask as he emerges.

He shakes his head. He’s just bought some something. It’s downloading. It’ll be another four hours.

Looks like I’m not going to get much writing done today.

Maybe tomorrow…

Monday, 13 June 2011

Expect the Unexpected

As writers we strive to avoid predictability.

There is nothing more satisfying for a reader than the unexpected turn of events – and yet, when you think back, the clues were all there.

Sometimes it's obvious right from the start where a story is going to go. You want to be surprised, but the writer fails to deliver.

Some writers have this down to a fine art. I'll talk a bit more about this in my next post when I will be reviewing some of the children's and YA books I've been reading recently. One of the writers does this extremely well.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already seen it check out the latest Dr Who episode for an excellent example. Wow! I can’t say any more than that --- Spoilers!

I really love it when something unexpected happens. Walking through the fields in the evening sunshine a few days ago we spotted something moving in the grass up ahead. I thought, perhaps a small dog.

But no.

When we got closer it heard us and turned around….

I never expected that!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Murphy's Law

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

I use this law all the time when I write. It doesn’t apply to me of course – it applies to my poor unfortunate main character.

Every time I put him into a new situation I think to myself: ‘What can possibly go wrong for him here?”

“Please, please,” he begs. “Can’t I have something go my way for once?”

But where would the fun be in that? Can you imagine what a boring story that would make?

“Sorry,” I reply as he clings to the rock face by his fingernails, the sea churning beneath him. “It would be far too easy to just let you climb out of here.”

His fingers slip. He falls…


There. Get yourself out of that one!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Surrounded by History

Something else that we can see if we only take the time to look is the history that surrounds us.

The past shapes the landscape, from the round barrows dotted across the hills to the marks of medieval strip farming.

Or more recently - from a time when the coast was fortified and guarded. A time when an invasion was feared. Hence the pill boxes we find along our coastlines.

Or even here, in this field. This was a radar station, manned day and night, watching for enemy aircraft crossing the channel. It was part of the Chain Home early warning radar network that proved so vital during World War 2.

Now forgotten and half buried beneath the meadow grasses.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Children and Pets

Do your characters have pets?

One of the things we tried when I was doing the rewrite for WRRW was giving my MC a pet. I went for a dog. But in the end he didn’t really work so I took him out again.

Yet when you think about it, there is often a pet, particularly in children’s books. How about Timmy in the Famous Five and Hedwig in Harry Potter?

We were discussing this over on the Litopia forums and someone said something that stuck in my mind – she said that most kids these days don’t have a pet but would like one, and so they like to read about them.

Is that really true? Do most kids really not have pets? Do your kids have pets?

I guess because I live, and always have lived, in the country, animals are very much a way of life.

And we don’t have many ourselves. I’d like to get chickens but my husband draws the line there. So for the past five years my kids have made do with only the guinea-pigs.

But now that has changed.

Please meet the latest additions to our household:


And Mimsy

A mother and daughter we have just adopted from the RSPCA.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Slush Reading - Reposted

Looks like my original post vanished - so here it is again:

I've been helping out over at Litopia, reading submissions for the forthcoming Litopia Anthology to be produced by Nemesis Publishing, and it's proving to be a very interesting and insightful experience.

Needless to say, since all the stories have been submitted by Litopians who have passed the assessment process to achieve full membership the writing quality is high. So none of the stories I'm rejecting are as a result of poor writing.

In fact, before I started this process I was concerned that it would be very difficult to whittle the stories down. But this is in fact not the case.

The really good stories stand out. The suck you in from the first line and before you know you've reached a satisfying end. They go straight through to the next round.

But the ones I reject are let down by two very simple things - story and structure.

The commonest problem I'm finding is submissions that aren't really a story. They are just a vignette, a scene, a snapshot. There's no character arc, no real beginning and no end. They may be beautifully written vignettes. But a short story has to be a complete entity in its own right. These are just a scene that could easily be part of something larger.

The other flaw I'm seeing is stories that are summaries of stories, more like a synopsis. I don't want to read a synopsis - I want to read the story itself!

If you want to know a bit more about possible problems with short stories do check out this earlier post of mine on common short story mistakes.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

If you look you will see

There’s an old gnarled tree by the side of the footpath. I could have walked by but instead I stopped to look.

Other people came along the footpath, some walking their dogs, others lost in thought. They walked past the tree but they didn’t look. They didn’t see.

When we write we look that little bit deeper. We look for the small telling detail that creates a scene, be it the buzz of insects around the apple blossom on a spring evening, or the old man at the back of the bus picking food from between his teeth.

So pause and look again. A tree can be so much more. As I stood there I could see the hubbub of activity, back and forth, back and forth.

Look at little closer

Honey bees.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Shiny New Idea

One word was all it took.

One word in a technical report I was reading at work. The sun was shining outside my office window and my thoughts kept drifting to my children who were spending the day out sailing in the bay. I had to keep dragging my attention back to what I was supposed to be reading.

And then….

One word.

A concept I hadn’t come across before. It leaped out from the page and struck me between the eyes, and I sat for long moments staring at it.

And as I stared a character began to form. She took shape and substance and started to whisper to me, her voice getting louder, more urgent. I think I’ll call her Lisa. And Lisa has a story to tell.

One word and a whole new world grew up around me.

One word.

One day I’ll tell you what that word was.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Of Science Fiction and Science

Which came first, the Science or the Science Fiction?

Science permeates nearly all of my writing. Most of my published short stories to date have been Science Fiction. Even my less SciFi work usually includes scientific themes. You could put this down to the fact that I work in a scientific field (oceanography). But you’d be wrong.

Science Fiction came first.

When I was eleven I read my first Asimov story. It was Nightfall, and it changed my reading habits for ever.

The ideas in the Science Fiction I read inspired me, stretched my imagination, made me question the world around me. I moved on to Wyndham and Hoyle, to Bradbury and Vonnegut, to Gibson, MacLeod and Baxter.

Don’t get me wrong – I read across lots of genres. But it was Science Fiction that changed my life. You see, somewhere between Wyndham and Holye I decided that I was going to become a scientist.

And so I did.

I can’t help noticing that it isn’t unusual for SciFi writers to have a background in science. In fact both Asimov and Hoyle were very eminent in their respective fields.

I wonder which came first for them?

Thursday, 14 April 2011


A small boy ventures alone into a deep dark cave...

Watch out for the eyes!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Great Typo Hunt…

I don’t know about you but I am hopeless as spotting typos. I dare say there are a fair few on this blog. Occasionally people are good enough to point them out and then I can correct them, but I’m sure there are plenty that go unspotted!

Sometimes typos can be quite amusing – not to mention completely changing the meaning of what you are trying to say.

A while back, while a group of my characters romped along in their adventure, someone kindly pointed out that the moment I'd turned my back my MC was peeing out of the helicopter. (He was meant to be peering.)

Honestly, if you don’t keep a close eye on them they get up to all sorts of mischief!

So here I am, trawling through my MS and trying to spot all the typos. Sometimes I can read a page ten times and still read what I meant to say instead of seeing what’s really there! Changing the font size and printing it out helps. But I bet I won’t get all of them – no matter how hard I try.

I can assure you though – nobody’s peeing anywhere they shouldn’t be!

Friday, 1 April 2011

How I Got My Agent: Guest Post by James Dawson

Please welcome James Dawson who has stopped by with another agent success story.

It was only at a writer's convention last year that I realised how lucky I am to have an agent representing my book. Out of 250 delegates, I was only one attached to an agency and was treated as a rare and beautiful specimen, not unlike an endangered species at a conservation zoo. Some of the people I spoke to had been going through the 'write-submit-reject' cycle for YEARS. While I was there to hob-nob and learn a bit about the industry, literally everyone else was there for a chance to mingle with the two agents present, with a view to being 'discovered'. It was a blast of icy water – I wouldn't say finding my agent was easy, but I now see that I never, ever had it difficult.

A number of delegates asked how I landed my agent, so here it is – maybe there are lessons to be learned within my (quite boring) story. I'll start at the beginning. I started writing Hollow Pike in early 2009, with all sorts of motivations in mind. By the summer, very naïve to how these things work, I decided to submit it to an agency. I did a bit of research and found the name of an agent who represents one of my favourite children's/YA authors. Following their submission guidelines carefully, off the sample chapters went in a crisp, white envelope; full to the brim with hopes and dreams.

You can only imagine the joy when just two weeks later I had a request for the entire manuscript. It was a simple, polite, poker-face email: “We enjoyed the chapters you sent. We would be interested in reading the full manuscript.” While this was brilliant, there was one small snag. The book wasn't even nearly finished. Maybe just over half way done. I was suffering from what the wise publishing guru Lynn Price terms “premature submitulation”. I think the title speaks for itself. This is such a rookie error – I look back and could just die of shame. I did what I could. I polished up the chapters, had a couple of people do a line read and sent her what I had with a pitiful letter and an outline of the remaining chapters.

It's true what they say, you can't polish a turd, you can only roll it in glitter. Needless to say, I received a polite form rejection, explaining that while my manuscript had clear “quality”, they wouldn't be taking it any further. I can't say I was surprised, but it hurt like Hell. The first rejection is the worst.

But the request to see the full manuscript filled me with fire. It couldn't suck. They wouldn't have asked to see the whole thing if it stank. It gave me the drive to keep going. I gave myself a new target – finish the book. It stopped being about the dream of being published and became a personal quest to complete a project (something which I've struggled with my whole life). The novel was finished in October 2009 and I started rewriting and polishing at once, with help from the lovely people at Litopia.

The submissions that followed were much less successful. I think the lesson learned is choose your targets carefully. Looking at my list, I'm now unsure that the agencies I sent samples to would have been the best homes for my work. I sent partial manuscripts out in blocks of three, so I could keep track of where it was and who I was dealing with. The first six came back as rejections (well mostly, it took one six months to reject it, by which time I was with my current agent!). However I entered discussions with another agent who seemed keen, and although these talks came to nothing, it once again gave me enough sustenance to keep going.

The agency I'm now represented by was part of my third attempt in April 2010. Initially uncertain of whether to submit (because their client list is predominantly literary fiction, and while I am many things, literary is not one of them), I saw the magic words...building a new list of children's and teenage fiction. Lesson two, then – read the small print. My agent was actively building her list. The agent mentioned above rejected me because she had too many authors to manage already, simple as that.

As I had learned from the first brush, things can happen lightning fast. The day after I sent my agent the first three chapters, she asked to see the whole thing, and this time it was ready. But as with any story worth telling, there has to be some drama, and this was no different. Somehow, possibly because of an ancient curse, when attaching the files via email, the wrong version (complete with clichéd, Inception style “or is it..?” ending) was sent.

It took 24 hours to realise I'd sent the wrong version, by which time she was already reading it. I quickly sent the right version with a grovelling email and got drunk. Three days later, I got my reply... “I really loved HOLLOW PIKE and would be keen on discussing it further with a view to offering you representation.” I was at my day job and promptly cried on a co-worker.

A phone call later and that was that. Done and dusted. My letter of agreement arrived about a week later. That was just the beginning – some other time I'd like to blog about the work my agent has done for me over the last six months, because it's been immense and I'm very grateful. Writing this blog entry has left me a bit emotional (possibly because I had two glasses of wine earlier), and again, feeling lucky. Talent counts, but if Jo hadn't been accepting new submissions when she was, I might have been waiting years.

Final lesson – don't try to predict trends in the market. My manuscript was originally a lot more “supernatural” than the finished product will be, I was writing it in the midst of Twilight fever, and thought that was what agents and publishers wanted to read. Wrong. The publishing world is way ahead of writers, trying to set new trends. Hollow Pike is richer now for losing a cast of characters with superhuman powers – darker and edgier, much more in keeping with my personal taste. Go with what inspires you, be original, write as well as you can, steady yourself for inevitable months of rejection and never give up.

James Dawson is the author of HOLLOW PIKE, released 2nd Feb 2012 from Indigo/Orion. You can find out more about James over on his website.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

How I Got My Agent: Guest Post by Charlotte Otter

Please welcome Charlotte Otter who also has an agent success story to share with us.

I started writing a novel in January 2008. I had a germ of an idea and a burning feeling that if I didn't start Right This Minute, I would never do it and die old and bitter and full of self-reproach. I was 39. It was my midlife crisis.

After a month of writing, I entered the opening page of my novel in Nathan Bransford's Suprisingly Essential First Page Challenge ( There were more than 600 entries and my page was chosen as one of the six finalists. The prize was a query critique from Nathan, but since I had only written a chapter at that point, I had no query to offer. I filed the prize away in the Things We Dream About drawer.

Then I went away to write. I spent the next two and half years writing, rewriting, fixing, erasing, going back. Listening to beta readers, ignoring them, listening to them again. Two years. Three drafts. Then I decided it was time to claim my prize and the lovely Nathan wrote a mail that made my heart skip several beats: 'Is this ready to be considered? If so, I'd be happy to take a look at the first 30 pages.'

I quickly made his suggested changes and sent him my new query and the first 30 pages. Nathan passed. It was a horrible moment. I asked a dear friend, who is a literary talent scout and who has impeccable taste, to read my novel. Her response was a punch to the solar plexus: too many rookie errors, too much tell and not enough show and please change the point of view from first to third person immediately.

I had queried too soon. The biggest rookie error of all.

After breathing in and out deeply, I started addressing her suggestions. I changed the novel from first to third person and it came alive. I started fantasising about which agents I would approach, making lists from Agentquery and The Artist's and Writer's Yearbook. However, a voice in my head said Use Your Contacts First. I used up my one contact with Nathan. I only had one left: Michaela Röll at Eggers-Landwehr, a Berlin literary agency, who is the friend of a friend. That friend said, 'Give it a go. You never know.'

In July 2010, I got an email from Michaela, which I have kept and may have to frame. It was full of lovely words about the book and an offer of representation. In August, I signed. There is still a long road ahead for Balthasar's Gift and me. A publisher has made some comments as have two literary agents in London who work as Michaela's sub-agents in the British market. I am now addressing their concerns, still writing, still revising, still fixing.

Still hoping that my dream will come true.

Charlotte Otter is a South African writer living in Germany. Balthasar's Gift, is a crime novel set in her homeland. She blogs at Charlotte's Web about reading, writing and living in Germany ( and tweets @charlwrites.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

How I Got My Agent: Guest Post by Caroline Tung Richmond

Please welcome Caroline who has stopped by to tell us all about how she found her agent.

In the spring of 2009, I borrowed a copy of Carrie Ryan's THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH from my local library—and I proceeded to devour it within two days. (It was fast-paced and frightening!) When I was finished, I decided to skim through the author's acknowledgments at the end of the book. One of the first people that Carrie thanked? Her agent, Jim McCarthy.

"Hmm," I thought. "Maybe I should query this guy when I finish my manuscript?"

I figured it would be a long shot but I scribbled Jim's name onto my list of potential agents. He seemed to represent mostly YA/adult novels but maybe (just maybe) he'd be interested in my middle grade manuscript.

Fast forward to April 2010…

I had spent nearly a year querying, revising, querying, rewriting, and querying my MG space opera. I was EX-HAUS-TED—and I was ready to call it quits. Yet, I still had a few agents on my querying list so I figured I'd contact them before I pulled the plug.

And so, I shot a query to Jim and a half-dozen other agents, not expecting anything to happen. A couple days later though, Jim requested my full manuscript! *Cue dancing and singing and major squee-ing.* But I tried to tamp down my excitement because I didn't think Jim was very interested in MG novels.

As I awaited Jim's response, I was stunned to receive my first offer of representation…and a second offer as well! I was speechless. Just a month prior, I had wanted to shelve my manuscript but now I had two agents interested in repping me! I was beyond humbled.

I sent Jim an email to alert him of my offers and he replied within the hour, agreeing to read my manuscript over the weekend. I was super excited that he was considering my book, but I tried not to get too worked up. He might not even like my novel, I told myself, Don't start getting stars in your eyes, Caroline!

On Monday afternoon, however, I received a call from a New York number—it was Jim! And he wanted to represent me! I froze, completely tongue-tied. B-B-But Jim only reps YA, right? Turns out, Jim wanted to branch into the middle grade genre and he wanted to sign me on as a client. *Cue fainting.* When I jolted out of my daze, I just knew I wanted to work with him.

I signed the contract last May and I couldn't be happier!

Caroline Tung Richmond is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C. area. She loves cupcakes, Star Trek, Anthropologie, and YA and middle grade novels. If you would like to read more of her crazy ramblings, you’re more than welcome to visit her blog ( or follow her on Twitter (!/ctrichmond).

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Signs of Spring

Spring has arrived and you can't get more spring like than the lambing. This little chap has just arrived. His brother was born a few minutes later.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

How I Got My Agent: Guest Post by Ian Bontems

Hi there.

Kate kindly asked me to visit her blog and explain just how on earth I got my agent, John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.

THE HOUSE OF MIRRORS was the first novel I’d ever written and I’d been querying for a month or so (and receiving a steady trickle of various types of rejections), when I decided that my query letter wasn’t up to snuff and had to be re-written. Yep, I’m a classic example of the writer that jumped the gun (but hey, at least I’d finished and revised the book I was querying, that’s got to count for something). Around about this time, I heard about a new agent, one that seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

I got the heads-up from here: It’s a great resource to keep you informed about new agents (but take note, it’s based in the USA, and so are all the agents that Chuck mentions).

But before I sent off that spanking new query letter, I did my stalking *ahem* ‘research,’ and dug up some old interviews John did back when he was an editor for Simon & Schuster, Putnam and Penguin. John Rudolph was new, but had loads of experience in publishing as an editor of children’s books and to be honest, sounded pretty cool.

Stalking done, I shipped off my latest query on a wing and a prayer and waited.

I got a standard email back saying I may have to wait 6-8 weeks for a response. No problem, I thought and filed it away with all the others on my little query spreadsheet and carried on writing, half expecting the answer to be negative.

Colour me surprised when the request for the full came soon after.

I’d read blogs that told me to be prepared to wait months for a response to the full, but John got back to me a week later saying he was interested. We chatted via email where he proposed some very minor revisions. I agreed with his excellent suggestions and then John offered to represent my work.

So that’s my tale. I’m a British writer with an American agent who has an MG novel out on submissions and is currently writing a YA epic fantasy with assassins and female soldiers who can ignite their swords with magical fire.

Thanks for reading.

You can find out more about Ian and his writing over at Ian's blog - The Eye of a Little God

Friday, 11 March 2011

How I Found my Agent

One question I would always want to ask an agented author is ‘how did you find your agent?’ The routes taken are not always conventional.

So although I’m sure you could find the answer by trawling through this blog, I thought I would tell you about how I found mine.

Early in 2010 I noticed a discussion on the Strictly Writing blog about networking. Someone was complaining about not having any networking opportunities because they lived out in the sticks, and a number of people had chipped in that there are other ways of networking – you don’t have to live in London!

Now since I live out in the sticks I found this discussion very interesting. Especially when someone mentioned that agents often offer 1-2-1 sessions at Literary Festivals and one such festival was the Frome Festival – a mere 1 ½ hours from where I live! In fact Rachel Ward, author of the very successful Numbers series, was picked up by Chicken House at one of these 1-2-1 sessions at the Frome Festival a couple of years ago.

I checked out their website and when I saw that one of the agents was Julia Churchill from Greenhouse Literary I made sure I booked myself a slot and duly sent off my first chapter and synopsis.

Then I had to sit down and make sure I had the thing finished in time! A good job I did because when I turned up for my slot she asked for the full. I sent it off the moment I got home and the rest, as they say, is history.

Friday, 4 March 2011

A Sense of Place

When I write I always like to set my stories in places I've actually visited. For instance, I've never set a story in modern day America and the reason is simple - I've never been there.

Of course I haven't been to the Moon either but since so few people have I think that, with the right amount of research, I can get away with it.

The reason for this is simple. I like to feel a place when I write about it. It's not something tangible, but if I can feel a place as I write, then hopefully the reader can too.

So as you've seen from my previous post I've been in Germany. I've been there before of course, but the fact remains that Germany 'feels' very different from say France or Italy - and that's just in Europe - go further afield and the feeling is different again.

I was lucky to be there for the Bremen Carnival. No pictures can capture the atmosphere - the pounding drums of the parade, the crush of people, the vendors selling bratwurst and giant pretzels, and of course, much drinking of beer. But here are some anyway.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Interesting Agent Stuff...

Caroline over at Adevntures in Space is running a really interesting series of blog posts called 'After The Call' in which she talks about what happens after you get an offer of representation. So if you are a writer currently on an Agent hunt - you might be wise to check it out. There's some really interesting information on there.

And while I'm linking to useful stuff about agents - this one's a few months old but worth a look - it's an Agent's Christmas Wish List.

Happy hunting.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Faces in Stone

We walked around the edge of the standing stones, and as I looked I saw a face.

"I know that face," I told my kids "I've seen him before, when he was a man," and they listened, wide eyed.

One midwinter’s day, as the sun was just struggling up over the horizon, I passed this way and saw something strange.

People had gathered amongst the standing stones. They raised their hands to the sky in rhythm with the pounding of their drums and the chanting of their voices, while the police, in their Day-Glo green, stood by.

As I watched another figure approached them across the heath. Tweed jacket and flat cap, his face blotched purple and red. This was a farmer who didn’t look pleased.

The police moved to block his path, but he pushed on through. At the time I thought it strange – they way he vanished into their midst, and the police shifted their gaze away from him, as if in an instant they had forgotten.

The chanting of the crowd and the beat of the drums never faltered. And after I’d watched for a while the sun rose higher and I headed on my way.

But the farmer? Well he learned the hard way – don’t mess with druids!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


Networking is so important in all walks of life. And networking for writers is no different – maybe more so because writing can be such an isolated pursuit.

I’ve heard people bemoaning the perception that you have to know someone in the industry to get an agent/publisher, or you have to live near a big city such as London where most of the agents/publishers are based.

This simply isn’t true.

I’m a good three hour train journey from London and the nearest city is in the next county. Yet I have managed to network. And if I can do it anyone can.

So here are my top suggestions for finding networking opportunities – wherever you may live!

1. Writers groups: Most people will live within striking distance of a writers group, maybe more than one. They offer an excellent opportunity to meet people who share your interest and if you find a good one will be able to offer helpful critique.

2. Book Groups: Often affiliated with book shops or libraries – an opportunity to attend talks by visiting authors and to meet other people with an interest in literature.

3. Writing workshops/courses: Again – a change to meet other aspiring writers and maybe even lean a little along the way.

4. Writing/literary festivals: There are big ones and small ones. Worth going along to. You never know what could happen.

5. Online writers groups/forums: There are loads of these – perhaps a subject for a separate blog post. Find the one that suits you, but don’t get so absorbed you start losing writing time!

6. Blogging. You’d be surprised the number of interesting blogs by fellow writers I’ve come across since I started this blog.

So how do you network? Anything I haven’t listed that might be worth a try?

Friday, 4 February 2011

A Big Cheer for Emma!!

Today is Emma Shortt's big day - the launch of her e-book 'The Valentine's Fae'.

So join me in giving her a huge cheer and say Congratulations! I hope it sells many many copies.

Head over to Evernight Publishing and take a look, and while you're at it why not visit Emma's website and blog and let her know what you think.

Well done Emma!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A Nice Surprise

I arrived home from work today to a nice surprise - my contributor's copy of Jupiter SF 31: Aitne waiting for me in the pile of post, among the bills and junk mail.

Now I've got some quality SF to read over the next few days.

Looking at it made me realise how much things have changed since I submitted this story - and in fact since I wrote my bio for inclusion in this issue.

I have one more SF short story scheduled for publication this autumn. But for now I've stopped sending them out. I doubt I'll stop writing them - they're far too much fun to do for that. Instead I'm going to concentrate on the kids novels and see where that leads.

Back to those revisions...

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Review: Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Michelle Paver is probably best known for her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness books, but I came across this little gem in my local bookshop and I just had to tell you all about it.

Because, quite simply, this book is amazing!

It was the cover that caught my eye – bleached whalebones on an empty beach, and when I picked it up and looked at the blurb and saw that it was a ghost story, set on Svlabard in the 1930s – well, that was me hooked. Honestly, she could have written it especially for me! I headed straight for the till.

You see, I’ve been to the Arctic, and I know how special it is.

So I guess for me this book had a unique resonance. But I would have loved it anyway. I was hooked from the start and it didn’t let me go. I was there on that Svalbard shore, watching as the days grew shorter, and then I was cowering in fear as the night drew in and I was still reading.

I won’t say anything about the plot. You must read it for yourselves. But quite simply this is the best book I’ve read in a very long time and I wanted to tell you all about it.

But something else occurs to me. With all the talk of bookshops and libraries closing, I can’t help feeling that if I couldn’t browse the shelves then I might have missed this little gem. My local bookshop is a treasure trove. I’m saddened to think, should it ever close, of all the wonderful books I’ll simply never find.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Stylish Blogger

Thankyou to both Jaxbee over at Agenthood and Submissionsville and to the enigmatic masked blogger for awarding me the lovely stylish blogger award.

So it seems that the rules for this one are as follows:

1. Link back to the lovely person who gave you the award.
2. Tell us 7 things about yourself
3. Pass the award on to 15 recently discovered bloggers.

Oaky, here goes on the 7 facts.
1. I was born in Scotland
2. On my desk there is a tardis.
3. When I was young I wanted to be an astronaut
4. In my living room there is a giant inflatable dalek.
5. I love wild and open places
6. I own a sonic screwdriver
7. My favourite colour is green

And here are some fabulous blogs I’ve recently discovered:

Adventures in space
Creepy Query Girl
Wendy Godding
Drawing a Line in Time
At the rim of the far flung sky
The eye of a little God
Inwardly digesting
The Scribblers Cove
Inside the Mind of Lucy Jones
Got YA
The Apocalysies
Terry Lynn Johnson
Almost True
Charlotte’s Web
Jill Scribbles
Laura Jane Cassidy

Monday, 17 January 2011

More About Giants

There was a time when Giants roamed this earth. For the people of those ancient times they were a common sight, striding across the landscape. And then they disappeared, lingering only in legend and myth.

So what became of them?

Let me tell you.

The Giants angered the great wizards of the north. It is one thing when they grind the bones of ordinary men for their tea, but when one went a bit too far and fed the noble wizard of Ardsheal to his family, the rest of the wizards rose against them. They held a great council on the plateau mountain and cursed the giants for all time.

Across the world, in an instant all the giants were turned to stone – wherever they were walking, whatever they were doing, in a moment they were gone.

But if you look closely you can sometimes see them, for they form part of the landscape beneath our feet, entombed in the rocks of our hills and cliffs.

And here, as proof, is one of them. If you stand at the right angle you can see his profile in the cliff.

Some say this is the face of Merlin, or Arthur himself. But you and I know different.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Dear Brucie...

I’ve enjoyed your company. We had fun along the way. From the first moment you barged your way into the text you made me smile, with your odd quirks as you followed the others through the story. You only played a minor part but I had such high hopes for you.

I hate to have to break the bad news but changes have to be made. Your role is too small and one of my other characters can easily serve the same purpose. You and me – it just hasn’t worked.

There isn’t a place for you in the novel any more.

I won’t forget you. But you’re going to have to be…


I’m so sorry Brucie. It’s never nice to delete a dog!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

A Visit to London

Yesterday I took the train up to London to meet my Agent. It was a long journey, but a good one.

It's strange, isn't it - the people we meet on trains. For a few hours that carriage is our world and we swap stories and set the world to rights. Then, when one of us reaches our station we shake hands and say 'Goodbye' like old friends - yet often we still don't know each other's names.

Then on I went into the city to meet Julia. I've met her before of course - I met her that day at the Frome Festival - but this was different. This time I was her client and we were meeting to discuss my book. It was really productive and the next round of revisions are about to begin.

I have to admit though, visiting the city makes me realise how much I love living by the sea. I walked along the beach this afternoon, salt spray on my lips, and watched the surfers playing in the swell.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Of Rocks and Writing

I remember one Christmas holiday, more years ago that I care to say. I came home after my first term away at university studying geology and climbed up the old iron age hill fort behind our house to stare out across the landscape.

It was a view I had looked at many times before. But this time it was different. This time I saw it through the eyes of a geologist. I saw the structures that underlay the hills, the dip and strike of the strata, the folds, the fault lines. I saw where the limestone ended and the clay began.

I've seen the world differently ever since. To me the landscape tells a story.

Writers see the world in a different way to other people as well. As the geologist in me sees the story behind the rocks in these cliffs - a tale of an ancient ocean and the mighty creatures that swam its depths - so the writer in me sees the stories behind the smallest things.

What have those people found on the beach - washed up by the tide?