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.