How to find more time to write… #amwriting #NaNoWriMo


Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about finding the time to write…

There was a time when I used to think writing was something you had to make an occasion of. I would sit, ready at the table in some formal ‘study’ and wait to write, wait for the inspiration to come. Sure, okay, sometimes the words would flow, other times?  Well, it’d be a brick wall in front of my mind, solid, impenetrable.

For a long time, when my kids were young, that’s how I would write. I was very serious back then. If I was going to do this writing lark, I thought to myself, I was going to do it (in a way that I assumed) was properly. We have this idea in our minds, don’t we, of writers, of what a ‘proper writer’ is, but despite that, despite my mind’s eye of what a real writer should do and look like and act, despite attempting (in vain) to emulate that dreamt up image, something was not working, kept getting in the way. That thing was life.

Life in all its multi-shaped guises has no room, see, for formality, not really when you think about it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably have a day job, maybe even a family and definitely the washing to put on, the bins to put out, never mind the more modern day distractions of cell phones and apps and Facebook et al.

Yep, that’s life. And so, as writers we use that, that hectic, hurried time-sucking life – we use it to hide behind. It’s our wall. ‘Oh, life is so busy,’ we wail. ‘I don’t possibly have time to write.’ We think, you see, when we say this that, as I used to believe, writing should be, rather like a grand meal, a formal sit down occasion.

But here’s, after painful processing, what I have realized along my own journey: you can write anywhere, any time – even standing up while the spuds boil. See, life, while mad as cheese, is something else too: generous. We just have to take it up on its offer and snatch moments to write when we can. So, I started to be on the hunt for those snippets of time, eager to see what I could grab and use.

Pen and paper always near or sometimes the laptop close by, I began to slowly squeeze writing into the small gaps in my life: a few minutes while the kettle was brewing; 30, 40 minutes while the kids were still asleep in the morning; 10 minutes before I ran out the door; a good hour or so at the kitchen table before dinner and friends. More and more, I squashed in my writing into, around, on top of my life, any which way, in the end, would do. I found I took delight in it all, in the spontaneous action of it, in seeing where I could write, how, sitting or standing, it didn’t matter.

And do you know what? It worked. Not only did I start to get more done, but my writing was more honest, too, somehow more fluid. Perhaps it was because, in between emptying the bins out and fishing a toy train out of the loo, I didn’t have time to over think what I was writing. I just wrote.

And that’s what I still do today, even at this ‘been published’ stage. Sure, I have a study with more time now to dedicate to writing, but still ingrained in me when the days get busy and booked up, is the compulsion to shoehorn a bit of writing into the crevices of my life whenever I find a free space.

So, if you’re finding yourself saying you are too busy to write, if you think you have an image of a ‘proper writer’, put all that aside, take out your pen and, when you get a moment, simply write. It’s that simple. Because 10 minutes here, an hour there – it all adds up. And, before you know it, without even realizing, you’re something you’ve always wanted to be: you’re a writer.

Happy writing :-)

Thanks for reading! Join in the writing conversation  below…

#FridayReads: My review of Stasi Child by David Young

fiction-fridayWelcome to Fiction Friday.This week’s fiction gives you my review of the debut thriller Stasi Child by David Young (Twenty7Books)

Let’s go from the start here. Set in East Berlin, 1975, this novel features Oberleutnant Karin Muller and her deputy, Unterleutnant Werner Tilsner, with the narrative starting when Muller and Tilsner are called to investigate the broken body of a young girl by the Berlin Wall (except Young has a different, more Orwellian name for the wall:  the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Barrier.’)

When Muller and Tilsner arrive at the scene, there is a Stasi officer, stasiKlaus Jager there, ahead of them, and they are to assist him. Not the other way around.  Cue then not only an investigation into a girl  fleeing from the West and escaping into the East, but something altogether more powerful, deep and sinister.

Atmospheric and achingly haunting at times, this novel paints a scene of a world we thought we knew and yet, when we read on, we soon understand that what we thought of the former East Germany is just the tip of the iceberg. Young, with his debut, has created a constant, tense string of not only intrigue, but emotion too. I remember the Berlin wall falling. I remember images when I was young of people trying to climb over it, of being shot in the  process.

This debut works the main characters well. Interwoven and developed, it plays out the narrative and plot, as you move through the pages, with skill.

Deep and dark, this debut is utterly gripping, sucking you in straight from the get go. Fascinating backdrop, well observed characters and a corker of an ending. All in all, superb.

Out now in e-book, the paperback version is out in February 2016. Available on Amazon here 


Heels are the prison of pain…


Welcome to Midlife Crisis, a diary of being 40 something and a half in today’s world…

Personally, I don’t mind shoes. They keep your feet warm. They stop you from experiencing the squelch of dog poo and chewing gum discarded on the pavement like some surreal obstacle course.

What I do mind is pain. Unless you count watching Big Brother, I have never known real pain until I wore a pair of heels. It was for a job interview. I was fresh out of Uni, my eyes bright-ish, and in my head I knew what to wear – a suit. And in the mid 90s that meant a skirt and heels, or specifically, a court shoe. The amusing thing was, the job I was going for was for a company that sold shoes. And not just any shoes – comfort shoes.

So, you can imagine the amusement when I rock up, my heel bloodied and bandaged from my shoes. I sit, face a gargoyle of pain

These feet are in prison, I tell you!
These feet are in prison, I tell you!

where upon the interviewer takes one look at my heel, sighs and says, ‘That wouldn’t happen with our brand of shoe, love.’

High heel shoes, you see, are like the yielding whip of fashion. They dictate that we are only women if we wear them, that somehow a high heel maketh the lady and to heck with the pain. Christian Louboutin, the major shoe designer, said that he doesn’t care if high heels hurt women, and that – get this – high heels are a ‘pleasure with pain’. That’s like saying root canal work is great because it hurts. This all from a bloke who doesn’t have to wear what he makes – and that’s the point. You can’t dictate anything to anyone if you have no idea what it’s really like to, in this case, quite literally, walk in their shoes. Or Mr.Louboutin’s shoes, for that matter.

The real pain is that women are on the receiving end of this ball and chain shoe thing. We feel, as lasses, we should be rocking that sleek court-shoe-pencil-skirt thing to look the part. Yet the fellas can go comfort all the way with a nice slip on flat and still nail the male look with not an Elastoplast in sight no matter what their age, no matter how many years past forty they roll, hair greying, cheeks adopting hollow enclaves all the way to their eye sockets.

I haven’t given up on heels – the delight of feeling tall, sleek. It’s just I’ve seen the reality now. A fashion iron bar where your free thinking is welded with glue, where heels are the prison of pain. And then you pull away and run, barefoot, as fast as you can.

What do you think? Post your thoughts below…

How a deadline can help you finish your novel… #amwriting #NaNoWriMo


Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about deadlines and how, if you’re writing a novel, they can help you get the job done.

When I was young I loved studying. Loved it. I was one of those spectacled, nerdy kids who lapped up the books and got down to some serious studying every evening and thought it fun. FUN.

That’s right. You heard correctly. Then exams came round. Exams. I’m afraid to say they never really fazed me. Heck, I sound like a right arrogant muppet, so let me explain. Exams got me nervous, of course. Exams made me question whether I knew anything. (30 years on, nothing’s changed there…) But, BUT, exams came with a deadline. A deadline! They gave you a date! You had to be there. On time! Oh it sang to my young time-concious heart like Romeo to Juliette, or Homer to Marg.

Because, you see, I love a deadline. What can you do with a deadline? You either meet it or you don’t. You sink or you swim. And that’s why I like ‘em. Deadlines are the take no prisoner guardians of time. They stand by the gates of hours and minutes, tapping their watch, shotgun in hand. You’ve got a deadline? You meet it, punk! (that sounded better in my head)

And so to my week. I have set myself a deadline. I refer here this time to the writing of my book, novel number three in the Project trilogy.

Now look, I don’t know about you but I can be a cracking procrastinator. Olympic medal winning. Skirting boards need cleaning? Pass me the cloth. Cupboards need re-organising? When do I start? Kids’ rooms need cleaning? Get me…Actually, no. It’s not come to that. Add this top draw procrastination into a book write and well, you’ve got nothing, really. No progress or, at the very least, slow progress. And so I have now turned back to my old friend the deadline. If I am going to complete the 1st (only the first!) draft of this novel, then I need to get down and dirty with time.

And so, in 2015, I have turned to National Novel Writing Month to help me. Set up some years ago, Nanowrimo, as its abbreviated to, is an online  community where, basically, people write their novels and post online their progress. And that includes me.

It’s a site used by everyone, see, and here’s for why: we all need a deadline to get our novels done. And boy does it work. Since I signed up on Monday, I’m back to averaging 2,500-3,000 words a day. Thank the Lord. I (foolishly) thought that once I was published, the words would fly out, but no – turns out, just like before, without the carrot of a deadline, I still need a push up the hill to get kick started. And so, saying it on this blog, on Nanowrimo you see, that I have committed to a deadline, to a word count, means I have to do it. I have to keep writing no matter how many distractions I find on Netflix and Twitter and Facebook, no matter how many demons I (still) have telling me I can’t do it (yes, that little devil never truly goes away, even after getting published.)

Bottom line is if you’ve not got a deadline, then go get one. Sign up to Nanowrimo and get cracking – it really does work. And then write. Write anything down, it doesn’t have to be perfect – that’s what editing is for, and you can’t edit a blank page. And oh boy, the feeling of achievement you’ll get, each day, when you’ve hit your word count!

So, let’s do this deadline thing together, people, because, when our backs are up against the wall, it’s the only way to get things done. Nerdy glasses optional.

Happy writing :-)

**This blog piece incorporates a popular post I wrote on deadlines all the way back in 2012. I’ve updated now it to include Nanowrimo (and, um, Netflix…) I wanted to use it because, essentially, what it shows is that  wherever we are in time, a deadline will always be relevant, no matter what the year, no matter where we are with our writing careers… Hop on to Nanowrimo here**

Thanks for reading :-) Join in the writing conversation  below…

#EqualPayDay: I’d rather be a rebel than a slave…


Midlife Crisis, a diary of being 40 something and a half in today’s world…

The problem with time is that is supposed to make stuff happen. The quiet, clock ticking quality of it, the spit-spot way it’s supposed to develop elements around us, be a healer, even, force life and all that’s in it to move on, make change, be something.

And so to today and the equal pay between genders. See Monday is Equal Pay Day, and I say this with heavy heart. Just the words, the size of their meaning makes me want to break down and fear for humanity, or at least my pay packet. Because I sit here, writing at my laptop, over the age of forty and I cannot quite fathom that still, in 2015 – that’s post second world war, people – we are fighting for equal pay for women. I went to see the Suffragette movie the other week and women were fighting for equal rights, yet now, even though in the western world women finally have the vote  we still don’t have equal pay (fun fact! Switzerland only granted votes to females in 1971!)

What the actual f**k? I mean, sorry to go all potty mouthed here , but, seriously, what in the hell is going on? Did

The cast of The Suffragette movie telling it like it is
The cast of The Suffragette movie telling it like it is.

organisations around the globe miss the memo that we are in 2015? It makes no sense. I have noticed people, from all walks of life, commenting on those who stand up, on the women that shout that we must be paid on the basis of our ability not our sex, that we should just be quiet, wait, deal with it, that we simply need to be patient. Yes, because forty years of equal pay legislation not actually working has not been long enough to wait at all, meaning that here I am, in my mid-life and the gender pay gap not only still exists, but displays no real signs of abating.

The Office of National Statistics calculated that the gender pay gap is currently at 14.2%, meaning that it would take 54 years to reach parity at current rates. To put it bluntly, this gap means that from 9th November 2015, women will effectively be working for free until the end of the year. Super! Pay is over rated anyway, right? At this point, I refer you here to my previous blasphemous reaction from above.

What will it take to sort this? I’m 42 now and, do you know what, I’ve had it with this gap business. I thought that by now things, life, heck society would be different, believe in equality, with a government that doesn’t just pay lip service to equality but acts on it too. To think that the Suffragette movie was pure fiction would be nice, and yet now, in 2015, where we are, the whole thing feeling like a scary reality. To not give women equal pay to men is to treat them as second class citizens.

We must act. All of us. Because, as it turns out, I can’t be doing with a divide, with a gap of any kind – so that means men and women joining together and insisting on equal pay for all, no matter what gender, colour, race or sexual preference. Because, like the t-shirts worn by the Suffragette cast above say, I’d rather be a rebel than a slave. Any day (Note: let’s all buy one of those t-shirts, wear them to the office, down the shops, in parliament…)

But, when those in retort say that women should just be quiet, should just go away, I leave them, not with my own words, but with the words of Cary Mulligan’s character in the Suffragette movie: ‘What are you going to do? Get rid of us? We’re in every bloody household in the country.’

What do you think? Post your thoughts below…

How to create real, three-dimensional characters… #amwriting


Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about how to write real-life characters…

Sometimes I have trouble getting into character. Writing for me, see, is like method acting – I have to get into the part, feel what my character(s) feel. But I’ve been finding this year that, when I’m stacked busy, nailing a sense of character, of who they actually are as a person – a real three dimensional being – has been frustratingly difficult.

Life gets in the way, and by life I mean work. Once you get published, I’ve found there are so many elements you have to get involved in – deadlines, articles, meetings, not to mention any day job you may have – that writing, the fitting it in, becomes pretty tricky. Oh the irony.

So, after reaching a point where I didn’t know my characters as well as I wanted (needed) to, I had to take action. I don’t know about you, but for me, characters are pivotal in a book. You can’t achieve anything, I believe – good plot, great prose – if you don’t have a complete character image in your head. I need to know the people in my book as if they were real, and while that sounds odd, I guess, here’s the thing: when you write a character they must seem real.  They must feel three-dimensional – every nuance, flaw, thought, mindset must be analysed.

So how do you do it? Well, I first imagine that I am them (yup…). I go out, initially, walk into town and think to myself: how would my main character feel if they were here? What would they see, think, notice that perhaps I would not?

When I return home, what I do next what I do is write all the characters, the main ones, on a page down the left hand side, jotting down bullet points of their key character traits. Then, along the top row, I’ll write, say, three different scenarios e.g. having to gain information from a new source. Then I will jot down against each character how they would react in that situation, what they would do. See, what this does is begin to create a real life person in your mind. Because we are real – me, you – and we all react differently to situations. And THAT is what you want to emulate in your writing. The more you do it – imagining how your characters would respond to various scenarios – the easier it is to not only relate to your character, but, ultimately, write them with a three-dimensional touch too.

So, if you’re struggling with your characters, give it a go. Pop them in your head, go for a walk then return to the page and write down how they would act. And all of a sudden what you’ll find is your characters will start to pop into life from the page, and you’ll not only know who they are, but you’ll know how to write about them, too.

Happy writing :-)

Thanks for reading :-) Join in the writing conversation  below…

Cancer is a machine gun that can fire at will…


Welcome to Midlife Crisis, a diary of being 40 something and a half in today’s world…

As you get older you realise just how much life sucks. Bear with me, because I don’t mean here that for me life is bobbins – mercifully quite the opposite. Things are swinging along pretty nicely. But while my days pootle along reasonably well, there’s one word dominating it more and more, making me realise that, without any effort, with pure non-discrimination, life can suck. That word is cancer.

Big word for a Monday, I know, but here’s the thing: since hitting my forties I know so many people now affected by the disease. Friends, family, distant work colleagues. It’s like spraying bullets in a crowd – it can, at will, hit anyone for no specific reason whatsoever.

It’s tough. I used to hear in my thirties people say how, when you age, you’ll find that the people you know start to, well, die, really. Yep, deep for a Monday. But it’s only now I’m the age I am, that joint creaking year of forty odd, that the relevance of that message from my thirties has really slapped me in the face.

I think it’s the sheer volume of people affected by the C word that’s the really, blooming shocker. It’s simply huge. We’re talking good people here, too, who can be taken by the damn thing, consumed up by it regardless of fitness or well-being or being just a plain top human being.

Today, new research announced that a quarter of people diagnosed with cancer after going to A&E in London with symptoms are dead within two months. Two bloody months. And that, well, it makes me stop. It forces me to think about how life really, when I look at it, when I pick it apart and sift among its debris, is ruler length short.

A close friend of mine, a dear, dear old neighbour has cancer and is now in the palliative care stage. It’s terminal. And it’s awful. Because despite his kindness, despite his beautiful family, his strong yet calm presence, his quiet ability to level flat a room of utter chaos, his time with us all now is limited. Walks and days out have been replaced with morphine and sitting on the sofa.

I know, for a Monday, this all may be the last thing you want to hear, all this talk of cancer and death and feeling utterly hopeless. But there is an upside. There is something I’ve finally got now I’ve hit my mid-life, and it is this: we really MUST make the most of every single moment and live it. Stop taking ourselves so seriously, don’t, as they say, sweat the small stuff. Because we owe it to those who can’t to go grab it all and don’t let go. Cancer, see, is a machine gun. And you don’t know who it’s going to fire at next. I, for one, am going to enjoy dodging the hell out of it for as long as I can.

What do you think? Post your thoughts below…

#SPECTRE is, basically, sexist…

fiction-fridayWelcome to Fiction Friday.

This week we’re taking a slight detour & reviewing the film Spectre. Oh. My. Days…

I don’t know what I expected, really. Action? Sure. Deaths. Aye. Swanky gadgets. Where do I press? But what I did not expect, despite the legacy, despite the decades of decadence, was the out-and-out sexism. There. I said it. Namely, the latest Bond movie is a sexist show.

From the very beginning titles even, the new Bond film is all about strong men and weak women. The rolling titles feature, basically, naked woman writhing around Bond with the odd snake thrown in, real snakes that is. I won’t even contemplate the imagery for Bond’s trouser area.

Now look, sure, I’m not naive here, I know how the Bond franchise works: slick secret agent, shaken not stirred, an eye for the ladies. But, with the emergence of the Bourne films, the raw, visceralspectre-poster-black-white quality of them, their realness, the straight forward, actual depiction they give of women – how we are basically equal – the Bond films changed. They had to up their game to compete with this new real Bourne character that director John Greengrass had created.

So Casino Royale was better. It was less, ‘ladies’ and more, well, normal. In a good way. It slipped a little with Skyfall, Miss Moneypenny starting out as a tough agent then being relaxed to a secretary, but still, it was trying. Heck, the reason I switched the main character of my thriller to a strong woman was because I was sick of films like the Bond franchise portraying women as weak. Yet Spectre is out-and-out just for the lads. It was cringey. There were lines in the film that were simply clunky. The first female character, a widow played by Monica Bellucci – well Bond, frankly, shagged her and left. Then the next female, a character played by Lea Seydoux who first appeared strong, eventually submitted to Bond’s charms with the line, after a man was killed, ‘So, what next?’ This was followed by, yes, you’ve guessed it, them, ahem, shagging. And this woman is a good twenty years younger than Bond.

I know a lot of people will read this and say, what did you expect? It’s Bond! He loves the ladies! get over yourself. But why should I accept that? I brought my daughters to watch the film and I was so utterly disappointed that they had to see, for two hours, women being objectified and portrayed consistently as weak, for them to see a woman ‘in need of protection’, who says she’s scared only for a man looking after her.

It’s tiring. Even when the blonde female character showed strength, it had to be pointed out. Why can’t films just show strong women without any explanation of why or how they are strong? You don’t see Bond going around defending why he’s got big muscles or saying he can shoot, thanks, that he doesn’t need anyone to do it for him.

Sam Mendes, director of Bond, please, re think your strategy. Women are strong. Depict us as so. Because my daughters one day will be adults with money to spend , and if films like Bond continue to degrade them, they won’t be spending their cash watching those films any time soon.

Next week’s review: Stasi Child by David Young

Agree with the Spectre review or totally disagree? Comment below.




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