Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Magic

Tucked away in the Devon countryside is Killerton House – a gem of the National Trust – and at this time of year it is one of my favourite places to visit.

Every year in December they deck out the house for Christmas, tinsel and Christmas trees, baubles and lights. It’s a chance to be transported back in time to Christmases a hundred years ago, and it’s lovely.

This year the house was decorated to the theme of the Nutcracker, we had the land of sweets and a Russian and a Chinese room to stroll through. In the Russian room the tree was festooned with spoons. In the Chinese Room there was a large red dragon on the ceiling, and when you went upstairs you walked between wintery branches and silver lights. It was like walking into Narnia – and there was even a wardrobe that you could go through to get there.

But by far the best part was the roaring fire that greeted you when you first went into the house, seats set out for the visitors to sit on and soak up the warmth and admire the decorations, and, in the corner, around the piano, was a choir singing Christmas songs. Their voices swelled and filled the room and everyone gathered around the fire to watch and listen.

And even when the music stopped and the other people wandered off to explore the house, we sat on, by the fire, watching the glowing embers and wondering what sort of a Christmas the people who once lived here must have enjoyed.

Outside the rain was lashing and it was windy and bleak, brown fields, grey skies. But here in the warmth was a little piece of Christmas magic.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Books for Christmas

The festive season is upon us and for many this is a time for giving – and of course – what better to give than a book! Books really do make wonderful presents! So in order to help you make up your mind I would like to make a number of recommendations.

I’ll start by introducing you to my fellow Dorset authors, the Littoralis. We write in a variety of genres.

If you like romance then I suggest you check out Laura James’s books. Follow Me Follow You is her most recent.

For a charming fantasy inspired by the Isle of Portland then look no further than Kathy Sharp’s Isle of Larus and the sequel, Sea of Clouds.

For children’s books you won’t go wrong with Carol Hunt’s Portland Chronicles. There are four books in this series, the first being The Portland Sea Dragon.

But I won’t stop there. There’s one more recommendation I have to make – Bone Jack by Sara Crowe is a superb book – aimed at the Young Adult Market – but adults will enjoy it just as much – I know I did.

I could go on – but maybe you have some recommendations you would like to add?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Yeovil Literary Festival II

I have just returned from a brilliant couple of days up in Yeovil, where I have been participating in the second Yeovil Literary Festival. The festival has been amazing and I had a really fantastic time, catching up with old friends and immersing myself in all things literary!

In all I was involved with three events. The first was the Past Winners of the Yeovil Prize panel event on the Friday morning. The list of success stories continues to grow and this year it was lovely to be joined by several of the poetry winners. Here we all are. As you can see several of our winning books have now been published.

Winners of the Yeovil Prize, past and present.

In the evening I was the host for an ‘In Conversation With” event, and the lovely gentleman I was asked to host was Jason Hewitt, debut author, whose novel, The Dynamite Room is simply superb.

In conversation with Jason Hewitt

And then, the next day it was off to the library, to run a writing workshop for a fabulous bunch of kids. Sadly my friend and fellow author Carol Hunt had flu and couldn’t be there, but they were such a great bunch of kids – so enthusiastic and imaginative, that even when the workshop had officially ended, they were all still sitting, scribbling away. I’m sure there were some budding authors in their midst!

Children's Writing Workshop at Yeovil Library
So congratulations to the organisers who made all this possible. Last year’s Yeovil Literary Festival was really good. This year’s was even better! I can’t wait until next year!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Bridport Story Slam III

Judging a competition is never an easy task, and that was why I was so glad to be joined by fellow Dorset authors Penny Deacon and Laura James for the judging of the Bridport Story Slam which was held at the Beach and Barnicott on Tuesday night.
The Judges, Laura James, Kate Kelly and Penny Deacon

The annual Bridport Story Slam is an open mic event. Registered authors take turns to read a short story within a strictly enforced 5 minute time slot. This was something they all managed to keep to, although one author cut it very fine – the last word of her story right on the buzzer!

There were twelve brave authors in all and we were treated to a broad range of subject matter, themes and settings, losing ourselves in the worlds created, a cold chill of something sinister, shortly followed by a story that would make us laugh out loud. Stories performed at an open mic event should entertain and these certainly did that.

We then had the difficult task of selecting the winners, retiring to the cosy upstairs of the Beach and Barnicott to discuss. Fortunately the decision was a fairly unanimous one with last year’s winner Jill Smith taking third place with her chilling tale ‘Hide and Seek’.

In second place was Richard Green whose hilarious piece ‘Health and Safety I Presume’ had us all laughing out loud. This was so well performed that we found ourselves wondering if the character he portrayed was really him, but when me met him afterwards we soon realised it wasn’t.

Laura with Richard Green
The winner was another very entertaining piece – ‘A French Tale’ by Wendy Breckon which we loved because it packed so much into such a short time frame with great character voice, vivid sense of place and lovely touches of humour. So congratulations Wendy.

Presenting the prize to winner Wendy Breckon

Proceeds from the event went towards the Words for the Wounded charity, Words for the Wounded is a fabulous charity that raises money through writing competitions to help injured servicemen and women for which Penny Deacon was one of the founders.

So thank you to everyone involved in making the story slam such a successful event, to the Beach and Barnicott in Bridport for providing the perfect venue, to Frances Colville for organising everything so well, to our fabulous compare Declan Duffy and of course the authors without whom this simply wouldn’t have happened.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Monster Hunting

As mythical creatures go the monster said to frequent this loch has to be one of the most famous. Standing here on a stormy day as the wind whips up the surface of the loch into a noise of whitecaps it is easy to imagine strange creatures lurking within those icy depths.

Some of the sightings are well intended – people who genuinely thought they saw something, even if in time it turned out to be no beast but the wind carving strange patterns on the water, or the wake of a boat that had already passed on by.

What really fascinates me though are the hoaxes. Some people went to considerable trouble to create their fake monsters – from doctored images – perhaps the most common – to models made of floating hay bales. For decades they held the world convinced, until their deception was finally revealed.

But that doesn’t mean it was all one big hoax to boost tourism, or even a series of mis-identifications. Stories of strange creatures in lochs and waterways have been part of our mythology for thousands of years. Perhaps our ancestors knew more than we realise.

And what of the sightings we haven’t been able to explain away.

Is there a monster in this loch? I’ll leave it for you to decide.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Follow Me Follow You Book Launch

My good friend Laura E James celebrated the launch of her second Romance novel, Follow Me Follow You (published by ChocLit) at the weekend and she invited me and two other local authors, Carol Hunt and Kathy Sharp, to join in her celebrations.

The launch was held at the Chesil Beach Centre and we arrived to find the landscape shrouded in a fine sea mist – fittingly atmospheric for a gathering of authors who have called ourselves the Littotalis – ‘meaning from the seashore’.

By the time we had set up our stands the sun had burned through and the venue was bathed in sunshine, blue skies and sea with the golden pebbles of Chesil beach for our backdrop.

Laura gave a reading from Follow Me Follow You while her children fetched extra boxes of books to keep up with sales. In fact we all sold well and really appreciated Laura giving us the opportunity to be a part of her launch.

Follow Me Follow You is available as both an e-book and paperback. Here is the Amazon link. Do check it out.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Edinburgh International Book Festival

I have just returned from the Edinburgh International Book Festival and I am still buzzing – because I wasn’t there as part of the audience – I was there as an author.

Mine was a joint event with the lovely Sarah Crossan, author of dystopian duology Breathe and Resist as well as the Carnegie nominated The Weight of Water. Or event was called The End is Nigh and formed part of the Baillie Gifford Schools programme of events, hosted by Hannah Love of Faber, who was as lovely as her name suggests.

We read extracts and answered questions about our books, both about the writing process and our inspirations as well as the environmental issues our books address and the emerging genre of Cli-Fi (Climate Fiction).

Afterwards we had the opportunity to meet some of the kids and sign books for them in the festival bookshop. A couple of school groups had come across from Glasgow and they’ve given the event a lovely write up here.

 The Book Festival was held in the beautiful Charlotte Gardens, event venues and bookshops set up around the edge with lawns and seating in the middle where people gathered to drink coffee or eat their lunch. The authors had a separate area, the Author’s Yurt, where we could chat and relax both before and after our events

Of course no visit to Edinburgh during festival time would be complete without checking out The Fringe and we spent some time sampling all that the city has to offer at this time of year. Some of the street acts we saw were quite superb and the whole city was vibrant and alive.

Participating in The Edinburgh International Book Festival was a wonderful experience and has to be one of the highlights of my year so far.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Guest: Children's author A.C. Hatter

Please welcome children’s author Amanda Hatter who has just released her first book – Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost, and she has kindly agreed to pop over and answer a few questions.

Hi Amanda. Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your writing?

Hi Kate, I have always told stories and loved writing.  At school I wanted to go into journalism and spent a summer working on my local newspaper.  I loved the excitement of the news room – but I have mild dyslexia and pre computers and spell checks there was no way I could pursue a career in writing. So I went off to university to study Economics instead of English and forged a career in industry. I returned to writing about 5 or 6 years ago as a hobby – and loved it.  I entered a few competitions and to my great surprise my stories kept winning prizes. I had a number of short stories published and I was finding it really rewarding.  One competition I won was judged by Fay Weldon, she gave me such kind feedback about my writing that I was spurred on to write a novel.

What inspired you to write this book?

About the time I was starting to think about writing a novel my children were at the top end of primary school and I was onto my second ‘come to school as an evacuee’ day. I am quite the pushy parent, so I insisted that the children read around the subject and I went off looking for WW2 themed books.  I love period novels but my kids thought everything I came up with was really dry.  At the time I had been reading Kate Mosses’ Labyrinth, which wove a historical plot line with a modern day story. It‘s set against the back drop of Carcassonne in France. I’ve never been there but the author painted such a vivid picture that the city itself became a character in the book – and I felt I knew it.  I wondered if I could take the same approach with a children’s book. Have an exciting contemporary story, weaving in and out of a historical children’s story – set somewhere beautiful and possibly a bit mystical.  The idea for Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost  grew out of that idea.

Tell us about Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost.

Callum is a pretty typical  12 year old, soon to be 13, who goes down to Mousehole in West Cornwall to stay with his grandparents.  He doesn’t know his grandparents well, and he and the reader soon realise that there’s something’s a bit strange about the Fox’s. At the same time as Callum is travelling down to Penzance we meet Jim who is being evacuated from London to Penzance as part of Operation Pied Piper, in September 1939.  There are many parallels between the two boys journeys. In particular, they both end up staying with Bob Fox, Callum’s Grandad.  He’s aged 7 in 1939, and 82 in 2014. Jim’s story is one of friendship and war time adventure. Meanwhile Callum starts seeing the ghost of Jim, the evacuee – which freaks him out completely. He has problems of his own in trying to convince his friend Sophie that he really can see ghosts and that he’s not going mad. And the whole time more and more ghosts are realising Callum can see them and he’s getting into deeper and deeper problems.

I’ve tried to combine a lot of action with a light, humorous, ghost story. I’m really happy with how it’s worked out – and the reviews and feedback I’m getting so far have been great.

Why did you choose to set your story in Cornwall?

I wanted somewhere beautiful, that would really add something to the story. It had to be somewhere children were evacuated to, and somewhere that people stayed for their whole lives. A place where families were strongly rooted. Where people know their neighbours, and their neighbours parents and grandparents.  It just had to be Cornwall.

And I had family in Mousehole.  My family farmed near the harbour and ran a hotel on the coast.  My uncle had written up a lot of the family history so I had newspaper clippings and his anecdotes to help me picture Mousehole in the 1940s. As a child we camped near Mousehole every summer, and invariably would end up at Myrtle and Kath’s bungalow, looking out across the sea to St Michael’s Mount. It is such a beautiful location – and the kind of place where anything could happen.

What was your journey to publication like?

I found an agent relatively quickly. She was very excited about the book and her confidence rubbed off on me. I thought it was sorted…. But publishing is having a very tough time at the moment – and the market is awash with debut children’s books from unheard of authors.  One by one all the big publishers reviewed the book, some feedback was positive, some didn’t even bother giving feedback. It was tough and in the end it didn’t find a home.  My agent called me to say it wasn’t going to find a mainstream publisher and suggested I get it out there myself. I wasn’t sure. I hated the idea of vanity publishing – and there’s a real mixed bag of stuff under the banner self-published.  I turned to my writing mentor, Margaret Graham, who put me in touch with a group who had formed their own publishing company, sourced professionals for editing, proofing, cover design and formatting and the quality of their work was really top notch.  If Callum Fox and the Mousehole was going to see the light of day then that was the way to go.  But I wanted to do it entirely myself. So I did

How did you find the self-publishing Process?

Hard work! I read everything I could get my hands on and whilst my manuscript was being proofed and formatted and the cover designed I was busy comparing Ingram Spark to Create Space and double checking the value added from the companies selling publishing packages.  None of the packages provided the quality I was looking for, so I set up Woodside White Books and purchased my own batch of ISBN numbers. I manage my Amazon sales through Create Space, Kindle through KDP (but not KDP Select), I’ve also uploaded the eBook to Kobo and Smashwords accounts to cover all eBook sales.  I’ve signed with Gardner’s that supply Waterstones, and am mid-way through a very long drawn out Waterstones supplier process – but I am confident that it will be sorted within the next fortnight, and then I can supply through Waterstones too.

One of the more difficult decisions was how to source really good quality paperbacks, to supply to bookshops and support author talks and signings.  CreateSpace can print author copies of their books but it’s only really cost effective if you live in the US – and they are US standard size, not UK.  So instead I have sourced a fantastic small printing company in Padstow, TJ International, and I have had a short run of books printed. Next week I’m going down to Cornwall to collect another 100f books to distribute to Cornish book shops and gift stores. It’s been hard work, but I have absolutely loved learning about the ins and outs of the world of publishing.

I see some of the proceeds are going towards supporting the Words 4 Wounds charity, could you tell us how this came about.

I wanted to kick the book off with a launch.   I started to think about doing it as a coffee morning, with people dropping in to a local restaurant / coffee house to meet up and chat about the book. I liked the idea, but I didn’t want it to be all about the book, it didn’t feel right – it had to be something more worthwhile and I wanted to give something back.  Words for the Wounded is a fabulous charity that raises money through writing competitions to help injured servicemen and women. They ran one of the competitions I had entered in the past and  I wanted to tie them into the celebration of the book’s launch, because they had become part of my journey back into writing – and it is a really good cause.  I offered to give £1 for each book sold at the launch to Words for the Wounded, and the venue, the Beech House in Beaconsfield, agreed to give £1 for each drink sold at the launch too.  I got the local press involved, learnt more about social media than I ever thought I needed to know and in the end we had a fantastic turn out. We raised over £200 for Words for the Wounded and I sold 124 books that morning alone – I was thrilled.

What are you working on next?

At the moment I’m still working on marketing Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost.  Next week we have the Cornish Launch – Tuesday 15th July, 10.30am at Geevor Tin Mine.

If the book continues to sell well, and if there’s a demand for it, I will write another two Callum Fox books.  I have some ideas where I’d like to take him, and which historical periods I’d like to explore. I also feel I have an adult novel in me too – but that might have to wait a while. I still have to fit the writing around my day job – and being a very pushy parent.

Thank you Amanda for such fascinating answers. You can find out more about Amanda at her website and Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost is available on Amazon.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Cli-Fi Author Joshua David Bellin

Please give a warm welcome to Joshua David Bellin. Joshuas debut novel, Survival Colony 9, will be published in September 2014 from Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster). Forget the past.  Fight to stay alive.

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to writing fiction. Survival Colony 9 is his first novel, but the sequel’s already in the works! Josh is represented by the fabulous Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency.

Welcome Joshua. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your book.
First, Kate, I wanted to thank you for inviting me to appear on your blog!  I’m a college teacher who’s been writing since I was about eight years old, with the dream of publishing a novel some day. It’s taken a while, but here I am!

My YA Cli-Fi debut, Survival Colony 9, tells the tale of Querry Genn, a fourteen-year-old member of one of the small groups who survived the wars and environmental catastrophes that devastated the planet. Querry’s dealing with a number of problems: the authoritarian commander of Survival Colony 9 happens to be his dad; the girl he loves, Korah, is someone else’s girlfriend; and the injury he suffered six months ago left him without long-term memory. Oh, and did I mention that his colony’s pursued by the Skaldi, monsters with the ability to consume and mimic human hosts that mysteriously appeared on the planet in the wake of the wars?

How has climate change played out in Survival Colony 9?

The world of my novel is a searing desert with little water, next to no plant or animal life, and temperatures exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s one possible effect of climate change, and in fact it’s already beginning to manifest itself in some parts of the world. As originally drafted, the climate angle was much more prominent; there was a whole chapter that gave a history of the planetary changes that made the world what it was. My editor and I decided that was too much, so I let it become more a backdrop than an overt statement. But the image of a world ravaged by climate change was in my mind from the moment I started writing this book.

Had you heard of the term Cli-Fi when you started writing Survival Colony 9? What first brought the term to your attention?

I hadn’t heard the term when I started writing, but I’m glad it exists! I first encountered it on Twitter from a gentleman named Danny Bloom, who’s been involved for years in the fight for political action on climate change. Once I discovered the term, I started to discover just how many Cli-Fi stories there are, written by authors from Ursula K. Le Guin to Paolo Bacigalupi to Sarah Holding to . . . well, Kate Kelly! And these stories are starting to garner more media attention, which I take to be a very good thing, since it shows that concern over climate change has passed from the realm of scientists and specialists into the wider culture.
What compelled you to write about climate change?

I saw the Al Gore movie An Inconvenient Truth when it came out in 2006. I’d heard about climate change before then—in fact I recently discovered that one of the books I loved as a child, a science fiction story about a boy and his alien friend, had a climate-change subplot—but I hadn’t paid much attention. But in 2006, I was a father of two young children, and what I saw in the Gore film terrified and galvanized me. I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I sat back and let the world my children were due to inherit go to hell. So I became active at the grassroots level in the fight to raise awareness and promote action on climate change. I don’t see my novel as a political manifesto in any way—it’s a story about survival under harsh conditions, about finding one’s identity, and about the healing power of love, with some very scary monsters in the mix!—but at the same time, I do see it as a logical extension of my career as a climate activist.

How do you feel about Cli-Fi as a means of getting the climate change message across?

I always hated preachy stories as a child, and I still do. If Cli-Fi is nothing more than a morality lesson wrapped in a narrative shell, I think most people will tune it out, and rightly so.

Fortunately, that’s not what Cli-Fi is. Like all science fiction, Cli-Fi extrapolates from what we know to what we imagine; it raises issues and awareness, but it doesn’t dictate belief. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which most people see as the first science fiction novel, raised troubling questions about the power of science, the nature of life, and the existence of God, but (at least in the original edition) it didn’t try to resolve those questions in any simple way. (In the second edition, alas, a much older and sadder Shelley turned her novel into a sermon.) So if Cli-Fi gets people thinking and talking about climate change, imagining possible scenarios, debating the issue in a productive way—not the reductive, “hoax or no hoax” way that dominates the airwaves—it will be part of what moves us as a people toward a solution.

Are we already starting to see the effects of climate change and what do you think the future holds for our planet?

I read recently about a cluster of tiny volcanic islands that have vanished due to rising sea levels, creating hundreds of climate refugees. That’s only one of many signs of climate change, but on a small scale, it shows what the future may hold for millions if not billions of people.

And sometimes I get pretty gloomy about our capacity as a species to deal with this issue. I live in southwestern Pennsylvania, and recently, on a drive across state, I saw a billboard with a picture of a clown saying “I believe in global warming, don’t you?” The idea, I guess, was that since we’ve had a cold winter this year, climate change must be a fabrication. When I see that kind of thinking, it troubles me to realize how many people are unable or unwilling to imagine the world beyond their backyard. There are no kangaroos in southwestern Pennsylvania, but I’m willing to believe there are kangaroos elsewhere in the world. So even if, for the sake of the argument, one concedes that southwestern Pennsylvania is not at present experiencing the worst impacts of climate change, does that mean those impacts don’t exist elsewhere in the world?

But that’s my gloomy side. My upbeat side sees that there are lots of people who can embrace the global scale, who do recognize what’s happening to our planet. Cli-Fi, I believe, has played and will continue to play a role in that elevation of global consciousness. At a climate rally in Washington, DC last year, I saw a sign that said: “We must rise faster than the seas.” When I see powerful and poetic signs like that, I believe it’s still possible for my children and everyone’s children to inherit a world very different from the one I imagined in my debut novel. And in this instance, I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong!

Thank you Joshua, and good luck with Survival Colony 9. It sounds like a great read and I’m looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Cli-Fi at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The brochure for the Edinburgh International Book Festival is now live and within a few days the tickets will be on sale, and I am thrilled to say that I’m going to be taking part! I’ve taken part in Literary Festivals before, but nothing quite as high profile as this one.

My event will be on Monday 18th August and forms part of the Baillie Gifford Schools programme. I’ve been teamed up with the very lovely Sarah Crossan, author of the superb YA dystopian novels BREATHE and RESIST and our event is called The End Is Nigh. We’re going to be talking about our books and in particular the environmental aspects – the melting ice caps in Red Rock and the loss of the forests in Breathe.

You can download the full brochure here and find out more about the wide and varied programme of events here.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Sarah again, and I’m really looking forward to talking about Cli-Fi with the kids.

But there’s another reason I’m so excited about heading up to Edinburgh - it’s the city where I was born and whenever I go back there I have the feeling that I’m coming home. I can’t wait.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Cli-Fi Author: Risa Bear

This week please welcome Cli-Fi author Risa Bear who has kindly offered to answer some questions about Cli-Fi for this blog.

Hello Risa and welcome. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your book.

I farm one acre in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. A former tree planter, forest fire fighter, and timber cruiser, I retired in 2009 after twenty years at the University of Oregon and holds the M.A. in English and M.S. in Arts Management. I edited and compiled the pioneering e-text website,Renascence Editions, and my primary blog is A Way to Live. Here's my Amazon author page. And my Amazon Associates Store. :)

Starvation Ridge began as a blovel, written because the ones I was seeing didn't seem to me very realistic. It's had 120,000 pageviews. Some folks said they thought it was worthwhile, So I took it to Lulu and from there to the distribution channels. It's print-on-demand and there does not seem to be much demand so far, but I'm not very attached to that. More on the process here:

It's the story of Karen Rutledge, who at fourteen in 2048 escapes from the underground home she was raised in when it becomes a deadly trap. Everything above ground appears to have been devastated some time ago. She wanders through the Pacific Northwest, which has very few, but mostly very dangerous, people left in it, then throws in with a group trying to revive farming. There are bandits, pandemics, crop failure, forest fire, and general lack of infrastructure to contend with. Sort of Seven Samurai meets Day After Tomorrow.

How has climate change played out in Starvation Ridge?

Capitalism might be more the focus -- resource depletion, really. The infrastructure collapses before climate (in the form of obvious heat) gets all that much play. Hunger and resource wars have brought about the "Great Undoing" before most people had time to notice that you can't grow much food after you've wrecked the jet stream. A youth in a late chapter does ask about climate and does get a detailed answer from a respected elder, but I try to lowball the preaching so as to help people make it to the end of the book even if they're used to only getting their news from Fox News.

Had you heard of the term Cli-Fi when you started writing Starvation Ridge? What first brought the term to your attention?

I first heard of it by reading an article by Daniel Bloom, to whom I am eternally grateful.

What compelled you to write about climate change?

It's going to kill my great-grandchildren. I'd like people to try harder to prevent that, though the horse may be out of the barn.

How do you feel about Cli-Fi as a means of getting the climate change message across?

Imagination is the most powerful tool we have. Look at the effect of On the Beach.

Are we already starting to see the effects of climate change and what do you think the future holds for our planet? has some of the best summaries on this, with extensive citations.  We are already losing crops and lives and my personal view is there will be triage.

Thank you Risa, great answers.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Seven Things...

I’ve been nominated for the very Inspiring Blog award by Emma Haughton, a young adult author whose debut “Now You See Me” has just hit the shelves!

I do love awards, even though I don’t get them very often, and this one also involves me telling you seven things you didn’t know about me.

So here goes.

1.    I’ve recently adopted three ex battery hens which the kids have called Nugget, Tikka and Tagine

2.    I once played cricket on an ice floe in the Greenland Sea.

3.    I have a dalek on my desk at work. If I switch it on it wanders around shouting ‘Exterminate’ but I don’t switch it on very often as it annoys my office mates.

4.    I am a Runrig fan. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen them play live.

5.    My favourite flower is sea thrift

6.    When I was a student I had a summer job working as a sewage sifter – and yes, it was as disgusting as it sounds. We were part of a team carrying out a survey of the mudflats surrounding a sewage outfall in the Tay Estuary.

7.    According to my grandmother I am a direct descendant of MacIain of Glencoe. I’ve not been able to verify this and I don’t really want to because it’s much more fun to think that it could be true rather than find out it isn’t.

Now I’m supposed to be nominating some other authors for this award, but I think that anyone who stops by and reads my blog deserves an award for that alone, so if you’ve read this far consider yourself nominated.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Cli-Fi Authors: Natasha Carthew

Cli-Fi, or Climate Fiction, is on the rise as more and more authors become aware of the impact that climate change is having on our planet and start to explore the possible effects through fiction. We are shown futures beset by rising seas, deforestation, frozen wastes and endless droughts. None of these futures are ones we wish to see – and yet all are frightening possibilities!

But what of the authors of these books? What drew then to climate fiction? What are their fears for our planet? How realistic are the scenarios they describe?

In order to answer these questions I have invited a number of my fellow Cli-Fi authors to answer a few questions on this blog over the coming weeks.

First up is author of the wonderful Winter Damage -Natasha Carthew.

Natasha Carthew is a Country Writer who lives in her native Cornwall with her partner of eighteen years. She writes full-time and runs wild writing workshops for all ages.

She has had three books of poetry published but Winter Damage is her first novel. Her second book The Light That Gets Lost will be published by Bloomsbury in February 2015.

Welcome Natasha to The Scribbling Seaserpent. Please start by telling us a bit about yourself and your book.

WINTER DAMAGE is a story about youth reclaiming their future whilst navigating forever snow and sub-zero temperatures in a never ending winter. A presentation of suffering and despair and the nature of our broken society set against the beautiful, harsh landscape of Bodmin Moor, Cornwall.

How has climate change played out in Winter Damage?
The climate has already changed for good in Winter Damage and plays a part in societies collapse. It’s set in what most people would call Dystopian Present but I call Justopia (It’s just happened or just about to happen). The fall in temperature and the snow in a part of the world that only occasionally gets this kind of severe weather gives the reader some indication what the book is about. The weather get worse through the unravelling of the story and the characters (and us as readers) know without much doubt that this is how things are going to be from now on.

Had you heard of the term Cli-Fi when you started writing Winter Damage? What first brought the term to your attention?

I had heard the term before but didn’t think to apply it to Winter Damage until you did.

What compelled you to write about climate change?

The climate, the weather and the changes and temperature of the seasons plays a massive part in my life (I write entirely out of doors and run Wild Writing workshops). It’s very important to me to include issues that affect us all in my work, especially environmental ones. Strange climate patterns feature heavily not just in this book but also my next two books.

How do you feel about Cli-Fi as a means of getting the climate change message across?

It’s a great way to get the message across, especially in Young Adult Fiction. It’s also important to get a few facts in the writing somewhere, push the seriousness that this could happen/is happening. So many young people have concerns about climate change which is great, their awareness means they are the ones who will ultimately take further steps to protect the planet.

Are we already starting to see the effects of climate change and what do you think the future holds for our planet?

I believe we have been seeing the effects of climate change for a long time and most people, especially in this throwaway culture of ours, don’t do enough for the environment because they don’t believe that the changes are happening or will happen. I believe that some kind of climate/doomsday scenario if not too far away (Justopia) and then maybe the planet can get on with the business of healing itself. Until that time, I’ll just keep on writing about it.

Thank you Natasha. I’m looking forward to your next book! 

Monday, 5 May 2014

Wistman's Wood

We headed up onto Dartmoor in the spring sunshine, followed the track north from Two Bridges – and came to Wistman’s Wood.

This is an eerie place of twisted trees and moss covered boulders - high altitude oaks that almost appear to be sprouting from the rocks themselves. Even in winter, when the trees are not in leaf, the woods are green, branches festooned with mosses and lichens, ferns sprouting from the boughs, as if to give them their own set of antlers.

Local legend claims that the devil inhabits these woods, his ferocious wisht hounds lurk among the rocks and the wild hunt rides out from here across the moor, baying for the blood of sinners. Most of the time this wood is dripping wet, shrouded in drifting mist and thin rain and you could well believe these legends to be true, the devil watching from between the trees, his hounds stalking you as you move among the rocks.

But this day of spring sunshine the woods seemed a friendly place, gnarled branches stark against the blue of the sky, mossy boulders forming a carpet of hummocks and a peaty stream bubbling over the rocks in the valley below.

It is a place of weird beauty.

A place of stories.

A place to come back to in moonlight…

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Review: Bone Jack by Sara Crowe

Sara Crowe’s debut YA novel, Bone Jack, is one I have been eagerly awaiting for some time, and suffice to say it’s lived up to everything I was hoping for.

The book opens with Ash, out running in the mountains, training for the annual Stag Chase where he has the honour of being the Stag Boy – an honour that his soldier father himself bore in his time.

But all is not well. Ash’s father returns, shattered by the experience of war, casting a dark cloud over Ash and his feelings about the Stag Chase. But worse, strange things are stirring in the mountains – ghostly apparitions and strange happenings that cannot have an Earthly explanation – for the land is ailing, ravaged by sickness and drought, and the Old Ways are resurfacing, seeking blood.

This is an amazing debut. The powerful evocative writing brings the landscape to life in a way that can only be achieved by a writer who has a real connection with the countryside and history around them. Sara Crowe weaves a magical tale that moved me on many different levels. This was a book that compelled me to read it in one sitting and left me aching for more. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Sara Crowe is a writer to watch.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Literally Sand!

Who would have thought that I would find myself taking part in an author event at Sand Sculpture Festival, but last weekend that is exactly what happened.

Sandsculpture is a feature of many seaside towns and in Weymouth, Dorset the sand is particularly fine and the sculptures of an exceptionally high standard. There have been sandsculptures on Weymouth beach since the 1920s but four years ago the sculptures were brought together under one roof to form the sand sculpture park that is Sandworld.

This year Sandworld’s sculptures are themed around books and authors, and the sand artists have been working hard to bring your favourite characters to life – from Moby Dick to Alice in Wonderland, Charles Dickens rubbing shoulders with Tolkien – but this stunning Warhorse sculpture has to be my favourite. Who cannot feel moved by the tenderness shown between horse and boy?

In order to celebrate the Grand Opening of this fantastic sand sculpture festival, five local authors were invited along. Kit Berry cut the ribbon and declared us open and we took turns giving readings to spellbound audiences.

We were given out own special authors area where we set up our books while the sandworld staff kept us supplied with coffee and burgers. In fact I can speak for us all if I say that we had a really lovely day. But enough words. I’ll let the following pictures speak for me.

The author area
Carol Hunt introduces us to the Portland Mermaid
The five local authors, Myself, Carol Hunt, Kit Berry, Kathy Sharpe and Laura James
A young fan asks Kit Berry to sign her book
Moby Dick - note how the waves form the pages of a book!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Meet My Muse

This is Mimsy.

Whenever I settle down to write it isn’t long before she appears beside me, looking up at me and miaowing. Then she jumps up and settles down to sleep on my knee. So I sit and write while my furry black and white knee warmer snoozes.

So is it any surprise that I’m putting her into a story?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Writers Groups - Networking for Authors

Writing can be a very lonely business and sooner or later we need to reach out and find other like-minded people. We need to network.

As we progress along the path of learning the craft and finding a publisher the types of networking will change and evolve. Initially we seek support and encouragement; we may be writing purely for ourselves, or we may wish to hone our skills and learn the craft, in which case honest feedback will be invaluable. Later we need advice on things like tax and PLR.

So here are some of the different types of networking that you are likely to encounter if you choose to take this journey.

Writing Groups (real life)

For most people this will be their first port of call when they start to reach out and look to meet other writers. Most areas will have a writers group, or maybe several. The key thing here is to find one that suits you. Not everyone wants the same things out of their writing, and the dynamic of a group will change as its membership changes. The only way to find out if it is right for you is to go along a couple of times and see how you feel. I joined a group in Yeovil and for many years enjoyed their insightful and honest critique, which was exactly what I needed.


There are all sorts of online writing forums and they can vary widely. As with real life writing groups it is important to choose the one that suits you. Some offer online critique. Others may be a place for authors to chat or ask for advice. Of course it helps if they are well moderated and the trolls kept at bay. Forums are notorious for getting out of control. I benefitted hugely from such a forum, sadly no more, which was called Litopia.

Writing groups (virtual)

Once you start to get to know other authors you may well find you want to set up a secure online place to keep in touch, and for this facebook or yahoo can provide a good platform. Many authors that I know belong to a closed group of this kind.

Author collectives

These are collaborative blogs set up by a group of likeminded authors. You’ll find them all over the internet, usually genre specific, or related to a shared interest. The ones I am involved with are Author Allsorts, Seamagic and Cyder Scribes.

Meeting other local authors

As soon as you get a book deal things start to change. You suddenly discover that there are other published authors living close by. Before long you are arranging to meet up for lunch or for coffee. For me it started when I discovered that my agent had another client who lived nearby and we met for lunch. Our numbers are slowly swelling and the other week when we met there were four of us.

Professional organisations

I really need to get organised on this one. Everyone keeps telling me I should join the society of authors. I will do … soon….

Friday, 14 March 2014

Somerset Floods - 2014

As the waters start to recede

Looking out across the levels

Gateway to nowhere

Along the River Parrett

Monday, 3 March 2014

My Writing Process

There’s a new meme doing the rounds and this is it. I was tagged by Natasha Ngan, author of the fabulous The Elites, and challenged to answer a few questions about my writing. So here goes…

1. What am I working on?

I have a new project on the go but at this stage I don’t really want to say too much about it. Suffice to say it’s another children’s book, set in a place near where I grew up, but inspired by some strange happenings near where I live now.

2. How does my work differ from others?

I think what makes my work a bit different is the fact that I come from a scientific background. Most of my stories tend towards science fiction in some form or other and I like to keep any science in them plausible. Worryingly the flooded world of Red Rock is turning out to be just a bit too plausible for comfort!

3. Why do I write what I do?

Before I settled on writing for children I dabbled with a few different genres, but then I rediscovered children’s literature through having kids of my own. It was wonderful to meet old friends and to discover some of the amazing authors who have emerged since I was a kid myself.  I knew then that this was the audience I wanted to write for.

But one thing which always frustrated me as a kid was that it was always boys having the really good adventures. That’s why I created Danni. Girls can have adventures too.

4. How does my writing process work?

I keep a notebook where I scribble down ideas as they occur to me, and every so often some of the jottings coalesce and start to grow into something bigger.

When I first started writing I used to sit down and let my characters and story lead me, but now I’m more disciplined. I start with a pitch, a few short paragraphs that summarise the main thrust of the story, what the main motivation is and how it will end. I always need to know where I’m heading. I find that this helps me keep the story focussed.

From there I build an outline, a page of so of bullet points that give me the broad structure of the story. This isn’t set in stone but evolves as I write.

And then I start scribbling. I’m one of those people who go for the dirty first draft. I get the story down and leave myself notes for the things I need to come back to. It’s a bit like forming a rough shape out of a lump of clay. Once I have this I can start to sculpt, cutting away, adding bits here and there, until I can’t see anything else to change. That’s when I know it is ready to head off out into the world.

And now it is my turn to tag someone – I tag….

Charlotte Otter

Susan Roebuck

Monday, 24 February 2014

On Endings

I’ve written and critiqued a fair number of short stories in my time and one of the things that is notoriously difficult to get right is the ending. The ending has to be strong. It has to resonate with the reader and leave an echo that lingers with them long after they have finished reading, and it has to pull everything that has gone before into perspective. Very often it is the ending that really makes a short story work, or alternatively can let it down completely.

But the need for a strong ending applies equally to longer works of fiction, and this is where I’ve been struggling with my WIP. So far I’ve written three endings, but they all feel a bit weak.

The story ended on a note of high drama and it left me exhausted. For a while I left it as it was, but as I started to get feedback from my beta readers it has become clear that I need some sort of epilogue – a final scene to bring it all together and provide closure for my traumatised MC.

I talk about endings when I run my writing workshops for kids, and we discuss the different sorts of endings you can have. I ask them about what books they have read and what sorts of ending they like. Their answers always fascinate me. So I need to make this ending just as memorable, just as powerful. Other authors manage it. I can too.

And I think I have an idea ….

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Holding back the Sea

Last weekend we headed over to Portland and looked down from the heights at the waves crashing against Chesil Beach. This was a calm spell between the storms, but the sea was still a churning whiteness. At the height of the storms the waves have been overtopping the bank, the beach road flooded, the island cut off.

A huge quantity of shingle and pebbles on the seaward side of the bank has been scooped away and the army were moving in with their diggers, shoring up the defences and clearing the storm drains in readiness for the next onslaught. More gales are forecast, and these will coincide with a spring tide - never a good combination.

The waves have been massive, close to 8m in height, and this little graph shows so well the sort of battering out coastline is getting as a succession of storms sweep through. (You can check out the data near you here)

As an island nation our coasts are always going to be vulnerable to the effects of the sea, more so as sea levels rise, and this has been illustrated all too well by recent events – the undermined railway at Dawlish, the flooded coastal towns. There is even talk of a managed retreat from some coastal areas in Wales.

Suddenly the world of Red Rock doesn’t feel so fictional after all.

Friday, 31 January 2014

A Watery World

I wrote about a flooded world. I imagined the rising seas. I also envisioned high rainfall and flooded river valleys. But this wasn’t meant to be today. My book is set in the future – a future beset by climate change – a Cli_Fi story where flooding is the norm.
I talked to my readers at signings and talks about the areas most at risk. I talked about the fenlands around Cambridge where some of the action in Red Rock is set – a future flooded Cambridge of tidal mudflats and buildings that become as islands. I also talked about another wetland region, closer to my home – the Somerset Levels - about the island that Glastonbury could once again become.
But for those poor people who inhabit that region all my talk of floods could well be hitting a bit of a raw nerve. For weeks now many roads have been impassable, whole communities cut off. A “major incident” has been declared. For the people who live there – this is no fantasy. This is very real, and very unwelcome.

I walked down the lane that led to through the village where I live not long after the rain had stopped – a brief window before the next front moved in. The fields were seeping, ditches overflowing, water streaming across the road.

Further on water was bubbling up through the drains, or from newly formed cracks in the tarmac – too much groundwater for the earth to hold, and the road and the river were indistinguishable. The fields to either side had become lakes, a welcome find for a flock of geese and a few ducks.

Soon we were wading, too deep for out wellingtons, and we turned back to higher ground.

Is what we are seeing the first indications of an overall trend towards more rainfall and more extreme weather, or is it just part of a natural cycle? Only time will tell.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Ghosts of Forgotten Roads

There’s something fascinating about ancient forgotten roads. They crisscross our countryside. So often we pass along them and do not see them for what they really are.

This looks like any other path through the forest but if you take notice you’ll see it is so much more – the width - the ditches to either side – the way it is ever so slightly raised above the surrounding heath. And then of course, its straightness – the final clue that betrays its true origin – a Roman Road.

For the best part of two thousand years people have trodden this path. First the Roman legions heading west, seeking out Cornish tin. Now the only people I meet are hikers and dog walkers. But we all tread the same road.

They say, if you come here late on a summer’s eve, as the shadows lengthen and the nightjars start to call, that Roman legionnaires have been seen marching through the dusk, the sound of Roman footsteps, the clank of armour and weapons.

Do all those people who once walked this road walk here still?

Only the forest knows.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Words for the Wounded

Today I am guest blogger over at the Words for the Wounded Blog talking about my journey into children’s fiction and listing my top tips for writing for kids. Do pop over and take a look.

Words for the Wounded Blog

Words for the Wounded is a charity which raises money via a writing prize and donations for the rehabilitation of injured service men and women. The prize is currently open to entries. You can find out more about it and how to enter on their website.

Words for the Wounded

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Review: Waking Up Dead by Emma Shortt.

You know your life has hit rock bottom when you’re living off cooked rats and showering once every few months—if you’re lucky. But for Jackson Hart things are about to get a whole lot worse. When her best friend, Tye, disappears hunting for food, kick-ass Jackson’s ‘head south to safety’ plan looks like it’s dead before it’s even begun. But then she meets ex-mechanic Luke Granger, who takes her to his bunker, feeds her with non-rat based food, and offers her protection against the zombie hordes—not that she needs it. She knows how to use a machete and isn’t afraid to.

Jackson might have been tempted to stay in the city with her rescuer. Food, shampoo and the possibility of finally getting laid, what more could she ask for? But the flesh eaters are getting smarter and when the bunker is compromised, Jackson and Luke have no choice but to make the journey south.

Luke and Jackson team up to find other humans in a road-trip romance for the ages. Travelling for thousands of miles with zombies shadowing their every move they must utilize every resource at their disposal…and then some. On the way, they discover that even if flesh eating zombies are knocking down their door, there’s always time for sex and maybe even for love. (from Goodreads)

Part road trip, part zombie bloodbath, part love story – Waking Up dead by Emma Shortt ticks all the boxes. This is a cracking good read – and not at all what I was expecting.

In the first few chapters we meet Luke, hiding out from the zombies in an underground bunker, and Jackson, savage and fearless, fighting zombies in the streets just to stay alive. But this isn’t just another tale of the zombie apocalypse – this is a book that is so much more.

For starters there are the zombies. These are no shuffling hoard of the undead – oh no – these zombies are far scarier than that – and not just because of the pus and the stench – these zombies are fast – and they’re getting clever. These zombies are evolving and as a result you never quite know what they are going to do next.

And then there are Jackson and Luke. The romance in this story is pitched just right, and their growing relationship drawn with sensitivity. But it is the characters in this story that I feel are its main strength – these people are traumatised and damaged – well who wouldn’t be – they’ve managed to survive a zombie apocalypse! But I do feel that this kind of character development tends to be overlooked in this genre and the author is to be applauded for handling it so well. It is this that makes the characters so well rounded, it makes them real and gives you real empathy with them.

Not to mention the unexpected twists and turns the story takes, but I’m not going to give away any spoilers here.

So all in all a very satisfying read, and if you like your characters savvy and your zombies gruesome then this is the book for you!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Stormy Seas on New Year’s Day

2014 was ushered in with wild seas and stormy skies. I watched the waves crashing onto the rocks on New Year’s Day, the wind in my hair and salt spray on my lips as the horizontal rain plastered my jeans to my legs. It was exhilarating. It was wild. And I felt the promise of adventures to come. The stories I have yet to write.
The coastline and sea around here are full of stories – tales of shipwrecks and smugglers. You can visit the caves where the contraband was stashed, or dive on those wrecks. Each tells a story, a tale of bravery, or the tragic loss of life. The sea can be cruel, and those who earn their living from it know the dangers all too well.
Looking at those churning waters, watching the waves smash against the rocks, feeling the blast of the wind and covering my ears against the blare of the foghorn, I could fully appreciate the raw power of the weather. I rounded the edge of the lighthouse, exposing myself to the full force of a gale that threatened to blow me off my feet. The past few weeks seem to be and endless run of storms sweeping in one after the other, brief windows of thin sunshine in between. Another is due in tonight, then another.
Every time I walk down to the shore the sea is different, her mood changes in an instant, and there is a timelessness about her. I love to stand and watch the waves and soak up the mood, and then return to my writing desk, refreshed.
But this particular day I didn’t hang about, but hastened indoors for a mug of hot coffee and a dense slice of fruitcake, and a warm fire to help me forget the storm raging outside.