Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Penguin revives Sagan

1950s French author re-translated

In 1954, 18-year-old failed Sorbonne student, Francoise Sagan published her first novel. 'Bonjour Tristesse' was a huge success and she followed this in 1956 with 'A Certain Smile'. 'Bonjour Tristesse' was considered too racy for the English reading public, so the English version had the explicit sexual scenes removed.

Now, we can be trusted not to get over-excited, so Penguin's Modern Classics have republished these acclaimed novellas with a fresh translation by Heather Lloyd that includes the uncensored text for the first time. And to be honest, in 2015, I really didn't come across anything that would have reddened granny's face in 1950 or today. Maybe someone felt sensations in the groin but if you're looking for sexual explicitness, you're unlikely to spot it here.

Described by 'The Guardian' as 'the French F Scott Fitzgerald', Sagan had a bestseller on her hands with 'Bonjour Tristesse'. Her writing is sophisticated and mature for an 18-year-old and she gets inside the heads of her characters, male and female, astutely. Her writing is rich and vibrant and her plots are credible and imaginative.

Bonjour Tristesse

Told in first person by the rather sad 17-year-old Cecile, during a holiday in the Med with her womanising father, Raymond (aged 40),  she finds herself sharing their villa with his 26-year-old mistress, the redheaded Elsa Mackenbourg. This is not so bad as she forms a relationship with nearby neighbour Cyril (26) a law student holidaying with his mother. The trouble begins when her late mother's friend, sophisticated fashionista Anne Larsen turns up, having targeted Raymond as her future husband. Pleasant, but distant, divorcee Anne can be intimidating but she does have her softer side.

Cecile, like the author, fails her exams, Cyril falls in love with her and Elsa is out of the running. But fearful that the regimental Anne is about to create structure in their lives and rob her of her best friend - her father - Cecile sets about destroying her. And she works out a diabolical plot. If you've ever discredited someone behind their back, then discovered how nice they were when it's too late to redress the damage, you'll know what guilt feels like and I couldn't help feeling for Cecile's predicament. Her mind seems like a wood full of thorny branches entangled in one another. It's a tragedy so be prepared for an unhappy ending.

A Certain Smile

Also told in first person by Sorbonne student Dominique, fellow student Bertrand's uncle becomes the centre of Dominique's life when uncle Luc and his wife Francoise, take her under their wing. They buy her expensive clothes and introduce her to their friends. Dominique thinks Luc is attractive and a typical seducer and she's not far wrong there. But she becomes obsessed and poor Bertrand is relegated to a back seat. Dominique seems bored with life but this sophisticated couple make life more exciting for her.

When Francoise goes to stay with friends for 10 days - how convenient - Luc takes Dominique out for dinner alone. What flattery! He impresses upon her how much he loves Francoise but he would like to have an affair with Dominique. Pretty textbook behaviour for his type, making it quite plain that this is simply that - an affair - and she should not expect anything else from it. He will never love her. Of course, she ignores the warnings and she ends up having the affair and doing what most dejected mistresses do, sitting by the phone and making excuses for his neglect of her. She feels humiliated. This also has a sad ending.

I had the impression that some of Sagan's work could be autobiographical or based on the lives of people she knew, for her attention to detail and understanding of human nature and behaviour are too accurate to have come from the mind of an inexperienced 18-year-old student.



Otto Preminger presented his version of 'Bonjour Tristesse' in 1958, starring David Niven, Jean Seberg and Deborah Kerr. The same year, the Jean Negulesco film of 'A Certain Smile' starred Rossano Brazzi and Joan Fontaine.

It's worth investing in this double bill from Penguin Modern Classics, as both stories are beautifully written.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Dysfunctional family in Diana Y Paul's 'Things Unsaid'


I'm sure there are lots of people called Diane Paul in the world but imagine my surprise when one of them - from Akron, Ohio - asked me to review her new novel. In truth, my surname is the same as her husband's and her first name is Diana, followed by a Y but we both belong to the same international writers' group, which also happens to be her publisher and we both have an interest in Mindfulness and Buddhism. Diana has authored three books on the subject and she has a PhD in Buddhist studies.

Family saga

Her novel is a family saga about money, familial obligations and guilt. Many of us would recognise some of these characters and situations. They aren't uncommon. Working from her mother, Aida's 80th birthday, the story unfolds mainly through the characters' back stories, so it's slow in moving forwards. In fact, the plot is static for a long time while we're given a glimpse of eldest child Jules's personal life with husband Mike and daughter Zoe and their dwindling finances. And it's all because she is expected to pay off her parents' massive debts and the cost of their accommodation in upmarket assisted care facility, SafeHarbour. They consider it to be her duty in exchange for the upbringing they've given her.

Sister Joanne's personal life and financial difficulties, caused mainly by successive plastic surgery on various parts of her body, are also revealed in expositionary chapters, followed by brother Andrew's marital history and some shocking revelations about two of his children.

To be honest, there was no other strategy for telling this sorry tale because we have to get to know the main characters pretty well to understand where they're coming from and why they can't go any further. Jules is left to make a choice between her husband and daughter's needs or continuing to bail out her parents and sister, despite her mother's ingratitude and narcissistic personality; her father's developing senility and irresponsibility playing the stock market; her sister's financial demands and the veiled emotional blackmail that goes with it.


I have to say I was hooked on the story as it unfolded and found it hard to put down. It's well-written for a start with plenty of attention to detail and a strong sense of place. The characters are amazingly well-drawn. It's almost as though Diana has written about people she knows, she gets into their innermost thoughts and feelings so well. I wondered if it was semi-autobiographical. Then I discovered she has a degree in psychology and philosophy. Perhaps that has something to do with her ability to get inside the heads of these people and understand their motivations.

Aida is infuriating and mean-spirited. She's totally wrapped up in herself and despite her financial difficulties insists on buying the best of everything and pampering herself to the hilt. She's totally unreasonable, is a master of the put-down and a thoroughly unpleasant woman. The only character who stands up to her is Andrew's wife, who gives back as good as she gets. The father, former doctor Bob Whitman, is a shadowy figure in the background who is incapable of learning from his mistakes. I wanted to get hold of Jules and give her a good shaking and was expecting one of the children or grandchildren to stand up and give this ghastly couple some home truths. But it's not to be and the couple never quite get Jules's dilemma in this charade.

'Things Unsaid' is published by She Writes Press. Diana can be contacted at Diana.y.paul@gmail.com/ See her websites: www.unhealedwound.com and www.dianaypaul.com  or Twitter: @DianaPaul10

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Man Booker Prize podcasts

Man Booker 2015 Longlist and podcasts


The 2015 Longlist for the Man Booker Prize can be seen on the panel on the right hand side of this blog. Chairman of this year's judges, Michael Wood admitted that discussions hadn't always been peaceful but they were, at least, friendly. 'We were lucky in our companions and the submissions were extraordinary,' he said. 'The longlist could have been twice as long but we're more than happy with our final choice.'

Telegraph book reviews editor, Lorna Bradbury said, 'this is a strong list that celebrates innovative novels from established writers as well as introducing us to some new voices.' And Guardian writer, Justine Jordan wrote, 'this year, the new internationalism has led to a list with admirable balance and wide imaginative reach.'

New podcasts

Throughout seven podcasts - a new audio series to coincide with the longlist - Joe Haddow, Producer of the BBC Radio 2 Book Club, takes listeners behind the scenes. The next episode is broadcast on Friday 7th August and features judges Michael Wood and Sam Leith talking about the longlist selection process and authors Paul Ewen (aka Francis Plug) and Sarah Waters with Chris White from Waterstones Book Club. 

If you missed the first episode, which featured Viv Groskop, Richard Flanagan's stunned reaction to winning in 2014 and an inside look at the publication of Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman', you can catch up now on iTunes and SoundCloud.

You can join the conversation about the longlist at @ManBookerPrize and #FinestFiction on Twitter.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

How do writers develop their stories

Author Cath Staincliffe guest blogs

I've been experimenting recently with different ways of developing stories. I've always recommended  my writing students to work in a structured way - knowing their endings before they begin, developing storylines; writing character biographies and knowing more about them than they know about themselves; writing step outlines, so they know what is going to happen in each chapter. That way, a novel should almost write itself. As a non-fiction author, I always spend more time on the research and expert interviews, so that I know my subject well. Then the writing is quick and easy.

Not everyone works this way and some authors find it too laborious. They're eager for the words to pour out of their heads and for the characters to make it all happen. This can often lead to a hiatus halfway through and is the reason why many manuscripts lie half-finished in a drawer. But I decided to give it a whirl one day. I'd had an idea and some characters but I wasn't happy with it. So I sat down at the computer and let my fingers do the walking. Imagine my surprise when a cast of new characters poured onto the page and moved the plot into a different direction altogether. I had such fun watching it happen, especially as it turned into a comedy and made me laugh. I have reached the expected hiatus but with time, I should be able to get beyond that, as I'm curious to see what happens in the end.

Cath Staincliffe's method

I still think some structure is needed at the start but I decided to ask a successful writer how she develops her story ideas and characters. Author and scriptwriter, Cath Staincliffe is my guest blogger this week. Cath's first book, 'Looking for Trouble' (1994) launched the start of her career as a crime writer and since then she has written many more crime novels and won several awards. She also writes scripts, like ITV's successful 'Blue Murder' series starring Caroline Quentin and the radio 'Legacy' drama series. And she's written three books based on the 'Scott & Bailey' TV series and is a founder member of Murder Squad, 'a virtual collective of northern crime writers. In a move from crime, Cath's stand-alone novels tackle various social issues, like adoption and growing up in the 1960s.

Cath's latest book, 'Half the World Away' has just been launched. It's about student Lori, on a gap year in China, who disappears, leaving her distraught parents to search for her in a country in which they're unfamiliar with the language and customs. So, how does she begin her writing process?

Author and scriptwriter Cath Staincliffe

Idea: the What If?

It begins with the initial idea, often in the form of a question:

  • what if someone asked you to help them end their life?
  • what’s it like to testify as a witness to a murder?
  • what do you do if someone is attacked on a bus?
  • how do you cope if a member of your family kills a child in a road accident?
  • can you ever forgive a murderer?
  • what if your child goes missing abroad?
These are all situations I hope never to find myself in, prospects that frighten me and I’m fascinated by what it might be like to live through that sort of nightmare.


My next step is to decide who the people are, whose story is it? Some stories will have a number of different narrative voices, others are just told from one point of view. I find it almost impossible to go any further until the characters feel real and I know their names, what they do for a living, what they look like, how they think, what their vices are, and their flaws, their secrets and dreams, how they talk. Quite often I will write biographies in note form for them, working out key dates and life events. I have to know what’s moulded them, what life has thrown at them so far to make them who they are today. Sometimes I have done mood boards too, looking at colours and physical elements and visual symbols to further differentiate characters.


Why names are important

Names are a perennial problem, they have to fit my image of the person but I try not to pick names I’ve used before and 22 books in, that’s getting tricky. I also have to avoid giving people the same initial letters or names with similar vowel patterns as that can be confusing for the reader. I’m living with a group of characters for up to a year while I’m writing and often find myself thinking about them even when I’m not actually working, thinking about what will happen to them next and how they’ll respond. It’s important to me to be as authentic and realistic as possible in the way the story unfolds. As a reader it doesn’t matter how twisty-turny or clever a plot is, if I don’t care about the characters (I don’t have to like them but I do have to have a keen interest in them) then it leaves me cold.


So once I have discovered my characters I can begin to explore that initial question. As for planning the story, I’m not someone who finds it easy to follow any of those systems that give you guidelines to structure your book. For example the whole ‘three-act story arc’ is beyond me, my brain doesn’t function like that. Or if it does then it’s instinctive and not consciously applied. I work more organically. At the outset I have a general idea of where the story will end up (I need to follow the question through to its natural conclusion, consider all the repercussions) and I’ll be aware of key staging posts in getting there e.g. an arrest, a trial. But other developments, new ideas and material I hadn’t thought of before, tend to come with the writing and the interaction of the characters.

That sometimes causes problems when I reach a point and don’t know what happens next. Then I sit down and list all the possibilities I can think of and one (the one that makes my skin tingle) will usually get me back on track. I don’t always write in chronological order but will write separate sections and then fit them together. That involves the use of a lot of post-it notes and flip chart paper. The fiction I write aims to tell a good story above anything else and so the fundamental rules of story-telling have to be met – there has to be resolution, a clear ending, an answer or answers to the question posed at the beginning. And for me it is always an adventure.


You can read more about Cath's work on her website: www.cathstaincliffe.co.uk
Twitter: @CathStaincliffe

Friday, 17 July 2015

Ruby Wax saved my life!

Sane New World

A couple of years ago, I was struck down by a mystery illness, or at least, something my doctor couldn't diagnose because the NHS tests revealed nothing she could peg a label on. The newspaper stand at my local supermarket looked inviting. I don't know why. As a former journalist, I never read newspapers because I need to be cheered up. I chose one, wondering why I was doing this.

At home, I leafed through the disasters of the day until I came to an article about Ruby Wax. I carried on wondering why I was reading an article about Ruby Wax. It seemed she had taken time out to study for a Master's degree in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy at the University of Oxford. Nice one Ruby. She had also written a book called 'Sane New World' about Mindfulness, something I had never heard of before. And the more I read about it, the more it was taking the place of my sugar cravings. I needed a copy, immediately.

Mindfulness course

And so it came to pass that I gave up a night's sleep to read the answer to my problems (I'm too old to have 'issues'). The next day I googled for the nearest place to study Mindfulness, which happened to be Breathworks at Manchester's Buddhist Centre. I dragged myself along, step by step, with laboured breathing and pains all over my body to join up. After three weeks of an eight week Mindfulness course for Health, I was able to breathe regularly again and learned to observe the joint and muscle pains dissolving as I meditated.

Restorative yoga

I also signed up for a wonderful course in restorative yoga, which involves lying down, breathing properly and moving my arms and legs about covered in a blanket or draped over a chair. Comfort yoga, like hot toast with butter oozing out of it. Two years on my life has moved in another direction. 'Keep on with what you're doing,' said my doctor. 'You're doing all the right things.' At least, I didn't have to take her drugs.

2nd reading

I've since re-read Ruby's book, as I appreciated it more having done the course. The value of her book, to me, was the sincerity of her story but most of all, the humour, so typical of Ruby's personality, which lightened an otherwise serious subject. (Never mind the brain bits: I loved the snippet about her mother looking for dust balls under the bed while her father waited outside in the car.) Mindfulness doesn't suit everyone and since then I hear the word bandied about in the media daily. But it makes a lot of sense and it works for me. I think those who sneer must be people who have never tried it.

And it beats walking about with your head down gazing into an overused I-phone all day like zombies, oblivious to the sky above. For anyone over 50, we live in a new world now and unless we were born into it, it can be hard to comprehend. We have to change and adapt to dealing with it, even if it doesn't suit us to live in virtual reality.


Ruby Wax

In her book, Ruby clearly outlines how our brains work; she explains what Mindfulness is; the research that has been done; how beneficial it is to us just being aware of what is going on around us, using the senses and being in the moment; kindness and compassion and lots of exercises. It's well-written, instructive, knowledgeable and, at the same time, entertaining. And it's a great starting point if you want to do a Mindfulness course yourself.

Other books and courses

'Mindfulness for Health', a practical guide to relieving pain, reducing stress and restoring wellbeing, is a handbook written by Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman. It's the course book written to accompany Breathworks' Mindfulness course for Health.

'Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world' by Mark Williams and Danny Penman is the handbook for their Mindfulness for stress course. But you can buy them without doing the courses and follow the CDs and exercises in them or do the course online if you can't physically attend.

Mindful piano playing

So, thanks Ruby for pointing me in the right direction. I'm now developing a strategy for incorporating Mindfulness into my piano teaching: there is so much that can be used for focussing on what is going on in the moment, instead of wondering what you're going to have for tea while you're playing broken chords. My students always laugh when I say that because it's precisely what they are doing. And teaching them to be kind to themselves, instead of uttering expletives every time they make a mistake; and kind to others, in particular their teacher!

Manchester Breathworks can be contacted at www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk

Ruby's website - www.rubywax.net/
Ruby's tour, 'Sane New World' is taking in lots of UK venues from September to November 2015 - details on the website.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Blessed Brian for Guildford Bookfest

Glittering lineup for Guildford Bookfest

Guildford launches its annual Book Festival this year with a bellow, for national treasure, actor Brian Blessed makes a return appearance to read excerpts from his memoir full of anecdotes about his career.

Spies galore

The 2015 Festival kicks off from 11 October until the 18th and it hosts some big names, whose books should be worth reading. Actor Roger Moore talks about his colourful life, including his time as HM's longest-serving 007 agent. And real-life spy stories come from journalist Max Hastings who reveals some World War II espionage tales in 'The Secret War - spies, codes and guerrillas, 1939-1945.'

Other guest writers

Writer Deborah Moggach discusses her latest novel, 'Something to Hide', 'a warm, witty and wise novel about the unexpected twists that later life can bring.' I'm with her on that. S J Watson's new psychological thriller, 'Second Life' asks: 'How well do we really know ourselves?'

Other guest authors include Catherine Mayer, who has been writing about the Windsors for three decades and brings us a new book about HRH the Prince of Wales, 'Heart of a King, Charles, Prince of Wales', which promises something new and HRH Princess Michael of Kent, will talk about the third book in her 'Anjou' trilogy. 'The Voyage of the Golden Handshake' is likely to be an eye-opener from former Lebanon hostage, Terry Waite for it's a comedy about life on board a cruise ship. I doubt he would be stuck for research there.

Another funny session comes from award-winning actress Sara Crowe with her debut novel, 'Campari for Breakfast', described as 'a quirky coming-of-age novel'. And 'Gin Glorious Gin: How mother's ruin became the spirit of London' sounds fascinating as author Olivia Williams explores the vibrant cultural history of London.

Readers' Day

Readers' Day this year brings Gill Hornby's new work, 'All Together Now', an amusing tale about a singing group in a small town; Lez Fenwick, author of three popular romantic novels set in Cornwall; Guy Saville with the sequel to his action thriller, 'The Afrika Reich'; Saira Shah with her funny and frank novel, 'The Mouseproof Kitchen' which tells how motherhood doesn't always turn out how you might expect and Kate Williams, whose debut novel, 'The Storms of War' tells of the tumultuous lives of the De Witt family during World War I.

Comedy production

And the list goes on - in addition to which Austentatious will make a return to the festival. This is an improvised comedy based on a title from the audience performed in author Jane Austen's incomparable style. This year sees the 200th anniversary of the publication of her novel 'Emma', which ties in nicely.

For children

Children haven't been forgotten, for there's an exciting programme promised for schools. A strong children's section is led by Piers Torday, who will talk about the final instalment in 'The Last Wild Trilogy'.

For would-be writers 

Finally, for would-be writers, there's a plotting workshop with romantic comedy novelist Chris Manby and a How To Get Published session led by author and books editor from Woman & Home, Fanny Blake and journalist/writer Lucy Atkins. I'd really like to know that these days!

Advance tickets on sale late July at www.guildfordbookfestival.co.uk or box offices at Guildford's Tourist Information Centre and Electric Theatre. Check out the website for the latest updates and facebook.com/guildfordbookfestival

Monday, 29 June 2015

Strawberry Jam Books promote good values for children

Children's reading: entertainment, enlightenment and education

Guest author Hilary Hawkes began writing books and poems when she was only 8 years old. She was 19 when a magazine published 12 of her short stories. Her 'Strawberry Jam' books are for pre-school to age 12 readers. The series includes a project called 'The Friendship Adventure', which highlights 'awareness of differences, disabilities, uniqueness in everyone to stories that link to fun activities and games'.

Hilary has a degree in publishing and English, together with qualifications in nursery and pre-school teaching. 'Little Chestnuts Pre-school' uses fun stories, games and rhymes 'to enhance alphabet knowledge, thinking and pre-literacy skills'. She's written non-fiction books about Aspberger's Syndrome, Autism and Pre-School Choices.

Here, she writes about how she sees the purpose of children's books, not just for their entertainment value but for educating and enlightening the minds of young children, to make them more aware of the need for kindness, compassion and acceptance of the differences among peoples in today's world.

Strawberry Jam Books

by Hilary Hawkes

Authors (and especially children’s authors) have been known to claim that creating books is one of the best jobs in the world! And book lovers, whatever age, know that reading is one of the most pleasurable and beneficial pastimes. “The more you read the more things you know. The more that you learn the more places you’ll go” said Dr Seuss. And “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…the man who never reads lives only once” warns George Martin!
I’ve always loved the idea of children’s stories that don’t just entertain (or help with literacy skills) but that are on a bit of a secret mission too: Stories that spread the values of kindness, inclusion or understanding or that are gateways for children to explore things going on in their lives or that help them feel nurtured and valued.

Stories can  be used to help children understand that people and people’s lives are all different or that differences in likes, abilities, physical and cultural or racial differences are good things and not reasons to fear or exclude or bully. 

Difference is good too!

One of my really favourite quotes is this one from the well-known and much loved author AA Milne “The things that make me different are the things that make me”. How important it is to help children realise that their own uniqueness and individuality are things to nurture, value and celebrate – and that this is true for everyone. Difference is not only good but needed too.
I also believe there is such a thing as ‘story therapy’! And by this I mean stories written with the specific aim of nurturing, encouraging, comforting or directing so that they become a gateway for the reader or listener to feel and understand their own emotions or find answers or solutions to difficulties that may be going on in real life.

Strawberry Jam's aims

My aim with Strawberry Jam Books is to create exactly those type of ‘on a secret mission’ stories, from picture book stories that nurture self-worth, caring or friendship; to story-themed projects for schools or children’s groups to stories that are intended to be shared by an adult and child together that help children deal with emotional upheavals.
A lot of authors, parents and teachers prefer children’s books to steer away from what they see as “issues” – thinking stories should be just fun and an escape from real life. Actually, I think children’s stories should always be fun and entertaining and, as fiction, an escape from real life. But I also believe that children’s books have always had the extra purpose of influencing and expanding the minds of young readers or listeners. Stories are unobtrusive and non-threatening and when the natural influence that they have is enhanced they offer children so much more that can add benefit and richness to their minds and lives.
Hilary's website can be found at: www.hilaryhawkes.co.uk/ It contains a link to the Strawberry Jam books. She can be contacted at: hilarymayhawkes@hotmail.co.uk

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Fun in store for young bookworms

Budleigh Salterton hosts 7th Annual Literary Festival

Always interested in bookfests but this is a special sort that sounds loads of fun. It's being planned for September in Budleigh Salterton, which is where? On the Jurassic Coast in East Devon and it sounds so picturesque, I can just imagine the Famous Five frolicking on the beaches and looking for smugglers.

Big names appearing

Now in its 7th year, this year's festival promises both adults and youngsters an impressive lineup of  events and authors for children, not to mention a host of big names in the writing world that will surely appeal to grownups. Man Booker Prizewinner Ben Okri, actress, comedian and writer Helen Lederer, writer and radio presenter Xinran and award-winning author Sarah Waters will all be appearing.

New York Times journalist and Sunday Times bestselling author, Liza Klaussman, enjoying much success for her debut novel 'Tigers in Red Weather', will discuss her latest book 'Villa America'. Of special interest to lovers of Scott Fitzgerald's work, the book is set on on the French Riviera in the 1920s and focuses on Gerald and Sara Murphy who inspired Fitzgerald's novel 'Tender is the Night' and their distinguished guests, such as Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso.

Hilary Mantel

The Festival's Honorary President, double Man Booker Prize winner and author of 'Wolf Hall', Dame Hilary Mantel DBE, will be in discussion at two events and Andrew Graham, son of Winston Graham, author of the 'Poldark' series, will appear with members of the cast and crew from the BBC TV adaptation.

What about the children?

But what about the children?  Judith Kerr, author and illustrator of the 'Mog' series and 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea, will celebrate her impressive 45-year career when she discusses her book 'Creatures', which details her life's work.

 Judith Kerr


If your child is a follower of the  'Diary for a Wimpy Kid' series, by Jeff Kinney, they're in luck for  Alastair Watson will host a range of fun activities including a draw-along session and the Wimp Wars! quiz.

St Peter's Primary School in Budleigh Salterton are hosting another interactive event based around the bestselling picture series, 'The Dinosaur That Pooped', written by pop stars Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter from McBusted. Included will be everything from dinosaur impressions to video clips of the book's creators. If you buy a book then and there, you can have it stamped by Dino himself.

Devon-based children's author Amy Sparkes will host a 'Writing for Children Workshop' at the Playhouse after award nominations for some of her books, including 'Do Not Enter the Monster Zoo', shortlisted for The Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Amy will give audiences a glimpse of what goes on in a writer's mind, from creating characters to crafting stories and lots of other things.

Tickets will be on sale from July but admission for 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' and 'The Dinosaur That Pooped' is available for local school pupils only. More info from www.budlitfest.org.uk/ Follow on Twitter @BudLitFest or Like their Facebook page, facebook.com/BudleighSaltertonLiteraryFestival.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Scared of motorway driving? Join the club!

How to Overcome Fear of Driving: The Road to Driving Confidence

Life coach Joanne Mallon gave up driving for seven years when she became driving phobic. Having overcome her fears, Joanne decided to share her experience with the millions of other people who are afraid of driving or, like myself, phobic about motorways, whether driving or not.

As someone on the verge of attempting recovery but not sure whether I really care about cutting out motorways from my otherwise confident life behind a steering wheel, I found Joanne's book very helpful in at least putting driving refresher lessons on my To Do list, while I vacillate back and forth.

What fascinated me most was the sort of advice that could apply to any aspect of one's life, driver or not. Joanne must be a very good life coach, for after reading her book and a day with The Speakmans (look them up on Google: they cured me of chocoholia) I was certainly healed of inertia. I haven't ventured onto the motorway yet but I've hired a cleaner, shopped online, tried to hire a gardener (they tend not to turn up but I'll keep trying), taken my bedlinen and all my ironing to the laundry shop, found a car valet and begun a home detox. And made lots of lists.

Practical exercises

I found the practical exercises especially useful. Written from the viewpoint of a life coach, they added value to the text and personalised the content. Joanne covers why we become phobic, the cause and how it can be overcome. It includes lots of tips for things to do while driving, to help recovery and what to do if a panic attack tries to take over.

Case histories

Case histories are always helpful too. Fear of driving can be a lonely thing - people don't always like to admit to having it but it's one of the most common phobias therapists are faced with nowadays and it makes no difference whether you're male or female. Motorways weren't built when I learnt to drive so my driving test didn't include how to tackle them. I just drove up and down them without fear or favour until one day, several decades after my 18th birthday, after driving on the hard shoulder of a snow-covered motorway for several miles without knowing it and aquaplaning ungracefully onto an exit, I gradually began to avoid them until I cut them out altogether.

I also developed raging anxiety about places I'd never been to before, whether by car or public transport. After all, travelling by train cut out the energy needed to drive somewhere new but it had the added dimension of worrying about getting the right one and arriving on time, finding a taxi at the other end and getting back home again; so that doesn't altogether alleviate the anxiety about travelling to pastures new but it does cut out the terror of parking in high-rise or underground car parks, at night.

On one panic-stricken journey to a new venue, a profound thought suddenly occurred to me: nobody gets lost forever. (I stopped and asked the way and a wonderful woman pulled out an iPhone, which produced a map in an instant.) Almost tempted to get one but I got over that quite quickly.

Anyone for SatNav?

One piece of advice was to emerge into the 21st century and 'Get a SatNav'! This, for someone who doesn't even own an iPhone, an iPad or a Kindle was a big leap for aging womankind. Great - I bought a Tom Tom only to find no instructions inside. Lots of people said 'give it here, I'll show you how it works'. What they actually did was have great fun putting in my home details and several destinations I was heading for but not actually teaching me how to do it myself, leaving me more perplexed and anxious than before. I tried it on a nearby suburb I knew well but it insisted on sending me straight on to a busy motorway, while I insisted on going via the A-roads. Morona, who lives inside the contraption and guides me, sounded more anxious than I was when I ignored everything she said so that she had to keep changing direction and shouting 'Turn round, turn round' at me. (Sounded remarkably like my mother.) I'm sure it will be a boon eventually but for now Morona is nestling contentedly like a baby kangaroo in a nice pouch I've bought for her.

Am I alone or are there other autophobes out there?

Joanne has researched the subject thoroughly, not only drawing on her own experience of driving panic and overcoming it but advice from experts and cured motorphobes who tell their own stories. We tend to think we're alone with this phenomenon but we're not. A Spanish survey in 2011 revealed that 8.5 million people in Spain (33 per cent of people with a driving licence) say they are scared of driving in some circumstances: bad weather, heavy traffic, night driving and new journeys. And 1.5 million Spaniards (6 per cent of drivers) were afraid to drive at all. They included twice as many women as men, mainly those aged over 40; men were aged 60 and over and it was often related to health issues.

So if you want to know what all those people have in common with you, to learn about motorway phobias, how to deal with driving-related stress, regaining your confidence, dealing with anxiety and panic attacks, the kind of therapies you might try and other people's success stories in overcoming their fear, this is the book for you. There's also a good list of useful contacts and other resources. The one on my To Do list is Ride Drive - www.driving-phobia.co.uk

Part of the sales of Joanne's book are donated to charity. It's published by Nell James Publishers.  Joanne's website is www.joannemallon.com  You can email her at info@joannemallon.com/ Twitter @joannemallon. She has a new book out soon called 'Social Media for Writers' - watch this space for review shortly.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The woman who talks with animals

Heart to Heart

What an amazing story animal communicator Pea Horsley tells. I read her book in one sitting and now have eye strain from sitting up most of the night. It was worth it though. If you love animals, you'll love this heart-warming story about how Pea developed her psychic ability and trained with the top animal communicators to become one of the greatest herself.

If you fancy training to do this kind of work, you'll be hard pressed to get on one of her courses for they get booked up faster than you can say 'woof'. I know because I've tried. Having lived with two cats for 18 and 22 years respectively, I know how easy it is to fall in love with an animal who loves you back unconditionally. There is an element of cupboard love with cats I admit but I came to the conclusion long ago that mine were here to watch over me and for me to learn from them. When 18-year-old Daisy lay dying, my friend Jean (who trained in animal communication and gives Reiki to animals at a local sanctuary) sent me out of the room while she 'talked' to her and gave her some healing. Daisy told Jean she wanted me to stop being so soppy and woman up; what she really needed was support and comfort before she transitioned. I was amazed to hear this because it was true and I was no use to her in an over-emotional state.

The book is a treasure chest of amazing stories of lost pets found, animal troubles resolved and a world we're told anybody can enter if we open up our minds to it. In Pea's words, 'It can be a step towards a world where animals are seen as equals and treated with respect.' It begins by developing your natural intuition.

How did she get started?

Pea's own background was in theatre where she worked as company stage manager at London's Comedy Theatre. She had worked in theatre for 15 years and had always adored cats, until Morgan of questionable beagle extraction and a sad demeanour came into her life. When she heard the Mayhew Animal Home were holding an animal communication workshop she jumped at the chance it might give her to get to know Morgan better. And that's how it all began.

Not only can she communicate with cats and dogs, but any animals from horses to tortoises to goldfish. Often her work begins with photos, where she can get an impression of their characters and moods. Then she can ask questions and relay the animal's answers to their guardians (as the 'owners' are called) so they can find out where the pet may be trapped or lost; or tell them about any illnesses they may have and what food they prefer to eat. It's all very well doing as the vet says and pushing dry food down your pet's mouth when all they really crave is a nice piece of plaice.

'Heart to Heart' is Pea's book about her work. It  is published by HarperElement, an imprint of Harper Collins. Details of this, her workshops and her other book, 'The Animal Communicator's Guide Through Life, Loss and Love'  can be found at www.animalthoughts.com

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Keeping Black Writers in Their Ethnic Places

African American writer Leonce Gaiter, proud Harvard Alum, is a prolific contributor to publications including the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Washington Post and the Huffington Post. His latest novel, 'In the Company of Educated Men', is a literary thriller with socio-economic, class and racial themes.

Leonce's articles often revolve around race issues and class inequality. I am delighted to welcome him as my guest blogger.

A Writer's Racialization and Keeping Black Writers in Their Ethnic Places

by Leonce Gaiter


I am black and in my latest novel, all the main characters are white.  I wrote the seeds of this book around 25 years ago, and at that time, the book’s racial makeup didn’t concern me.  It’s not as if white worlds were ever foreign; I’ve spent my entire life in them – in school, in church, through media, socially, and professionally.  In fact, any not-completely-insular black man or woman would be infinitely more qualified to write white characters than the average white person is to write black ones. Yet, you see plenty of the latter and little of the former.

Yes, decades ago, the racial aspect of writing white characters didn’t register. But back then, I hadn’t had dealings with the publishing industry.  

My previous novels portrayed black principals and almost all-white supporting casts.  They received admiration from publishing houses, but few takers.  Publishers told me that they could not see a route to commercial success for my books. I soon learned what that meant.

There remains in publishing a very Jim Crow notion of what black authors should write.  We are supposed to write about “The Black Experience.”  But we’re supposed to write about “The Black Experience” in ways the majority finds comfortable and familiar.  That means we can write about slavery and the civil rights movement; we can write protest fiction of one sort or another; we can write victimized characters who take the world’s abuse and turn it self-destructively inward.  These are the roles in which the mainstream is comfortable seeing us.
And black writers know this.  That’s why self-censorship enters the picture.  We know what kind of books will gain mainstream acceptance, and we know what kinds of books will receive the polite publishing industry ‘no thank you’ regardless of merit.

Partly due to the boundaries mainstream publishing erects around black letters, I wrote a book with white principal characters. Then I discovered a writer who had done the same over 50 years ago, and his example shows how little has changed when it comes to African-Americans and American mainstream publishing.

I learned about Frank Yerby from Troy Johnson of the African-American Literature Book Club (aalbc.com).  I contacted Troy about marketing my new white-charactered book to his mainly black audience. Troy mentioned how rare it is for black writers to ‘write white’ and mentioned Yerby as a one who had done so starting back in the 40s, and whose reputation suffered for it.  Per the New George Encyclopedia:

“Yerby was often criticized by blacks for the lack of focus on or stereotypical treatment of African American characters in his books. Thus, ironically, while Yerby held the distinction of being the first best-selling black novelist, he also became one of the most disparaged for his lack of racial consciousness.”

Yerby had written a novel about Southern racial injustice, but publishers rejected it.  It seems that subsequent to that, Yerby turned to white protagonists. 

Further research led me to an essay on Yerby by A.J. Aronstein [ http://www.bookslut.com/past_perfect/2012_05_018921.php  ] in Bookslut. In it, Aronstein discusses Yerby’s first and breakthrough novel, “The Foxes of Yarrow.”
“For the last forty years, defenders of Yerby have attempted to justify the fact that he wrote romance novels, suggesting that he dodged confrontations with racial issues in order to publish on his own terms. According to these readings, the value of Yerby's work arises mainly from his rejection of expectations imposed upon his generation of African-American writers. But a reading of The Foxes of Harrow presents an opportunity for rethinking Yerby's handling of racial themes, and suggests that we should reconsider the importance of his work among mid-century African-American writers like Wright, Hurston, and Ellison.”

Kudos to Aronstein for working to resurrect a writer he finds underrated; however, it’s interesting that the grounds on which he attempts to resurrect him are the very well-worn fields of the African-American race novel—a soil Yerby spent a great deal of his career purposefully sidestepping.  Discussing his indifference toward typical racial themes in a 1981 interview, Yerby called the ‘race novel’ “an artistic dead end,” from which he said, “I’m glad to have escaped.”  Nonetheless, Aronstein insists in stuffing him into a category the author himself minimized.  It’s as if Aronstein knows that publishing only admits black writers through a particular back door, so that’s the one through which he tries to slip Yerby.

Aronstein wrote, “Yerby did write romance novels. But genre snobbery risks brushing aside his significant accomplishments in the publishing industry, and ignores the way race actually operates in his books.”

Aronstein rests Yerby’s literary significance on his incorporation of race into his novels, as if that is the only standard by which a black author could or should be judged.  Perhaps, like Wilkie Collins or Marion Zimmer Bradley, he produced a genre masterpiece that deserves in-print status through eternity. But Yerby is black, so that cannot be the basis for his reconsideration.  He has to be made ‘a credit to his race’ instead. Yerby escaped the American publishing ghetto in the 50s and fled to Spain.  Little has changed since he felt compelled to do so.  He is still being ordered to sit in the black section. 

When it comes to depictions of African-Americans, the publishing industry lags far behind a medium like television, which depicts a far more expansive range of diverse ethnic characters. In addition, publishing seems desperate to keep ethnic writers neatly sealed in their racial Zip Lock bags.
There’s an old story of the racist white opera diva discussing Leontyne Price.  When asked what roles Price should sing, the diva replied, “Bess.  Just Bess.” 

It seems publishing learned a lot from her.

Details of 'In the Company of Educated Men' can be found on http://bit.ly/ZyqSuN
Leonce's latest article in the Huffington Post is at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leonce-gaiter
Other book links:
Amazon http://amzn.to/1v411Kj
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1Eq5da0
Apple: http://bit.ly/1CyF3jo

Friday, 27 March 2015

Can we ever forgive those who do us the greatest wrong?

Letters To My Daughter's Killer

Cath Staincliffe

Novelist Cath Staincliffe poses this question in her heart-wrenching study on a mother's search for understanding, written in epistolary form as letters to her daughter, Lizzie's murderer. In them she pours out her anguish as she reveals the devastating effect the crime has had on her, her family and friends four years earlier. It's a story of the life sentences the families of victims serve because of the actions of others who either don't care or don't think about the ramifications of their crimes.

Cath Staincliffe never ceases to amaze me. As the author of the Sal Kilkenny private eye mysteries set in Manchester, the creator and scriptwriter of the Blue Murder ITV series and the novels based on the Scott & Bailey TV detective series, her stories are full of action, twists and turns and unexpected outcomes at the end of her well-plotted work.

But reading Cath's standalone psychological novels, with their true-to-life moral dilemmas, one could be forgiven for thinking they're written by another author, for the style, themes and language are so completely different. They're full of emotional pull; thought-provoking with characters who leap out of the pages; credible situations that could happen to any of us; superbly written and loaded with fine detail that give her books a more literary feel.

Letters to My Daughter's Killer was selected for the Crime Thriller Bookclub on ITV3 and given the thumbs up by a panel of well-known authors. Nobody puts it better than crime writer, Val McDermid when she says: 'It's always exciting to see a writer get better and better and Cath Staincliffe is doing just that.'


Ruth Sutton lives in Manchester. In her first letter to her daughter's murderer, she reveals immediately her passionate hatred for him; nothing can change that. Written in first person, Ruth gradually unfolds the story that she needs to get out of her head.  The passing years have increased her desire for vengeance, for it is killing her inside. She needs to move away from it before she is also destroyed.

The strength of her hatred is revealed on the first page. She asks for no replies, she just wants him to read her letters but what she does want is some answers. The man has lied and denied the crime and she needs to know how her daughter died and why, so she is going to face him with the destruction he has ravaged for his victim's mother.

Ruth works at the local library in a south Manchester suburb. One evening in September 2009, she is alone at home with Milky the cat. She has been divorced for two years from husband Tony.  Her daughter Lizzie's husband Jack phones to say Lizzie has been killed. Nothing will ever be the same.

Her letters describe how it felt being told and witnessing the crime scene when it was too late. Cath gets right to the heart of how any mother might feel in such a situation, the emotions she might go through - shock, disbelief, horror, questions, grief, memories and reality. Ruth tries to imagine how the murderer would have been feeling having committed the crime. Any more would be a spoiler, so I recommend reading this book, along with any of Cath's other standalone novels.

Letters To My Daughter's Killer is published by C&R Crime, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2014.

Cath's website gives details of all her books and scripts: www.cathstaincliffe.co.uk

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A man is not a financial plan!

The Wealthy Woman: a woman's guide to achieving financial security

Mary Waring's advice for a secure financial future, aimed at women, makes sound sense. For those women who don't mind being kept by someone else, this book may still prove helpful. I'm sure that lifestyle has its advantages and drawbacks but I've always preferred to earn my own crust, rather than having to ask someone else for money. But like many other women, I haven't a clue when it comes to saving for the future. That's where independence can fall down.

There's nothing wrong with aspiring to be a wealthy woman and Mary knows how to do this. She's the founder of Wealth for Women, and an IFA (Independent Financial Adviser) and she specialises in divorce settlement for her female clients.  She's one of a handful of UK advisers to qualify as a Chartered Financial Planner and a Chartered Accountant; she's been voted the only top-rated IFA specialising in financial advice for women going through divorce on VouchedFor.co.uk and was shortlisted as Chartered Financial Planner of 2014 from 4,299 other planners in the country.

Mary maintains that too many women stick their heads in the sand and ignore financial planning. 'Or rely on a man to sort it for them,' she says. Her catchphrase, not surprisingly, is 'A man is not a financial plan'.

Mary's book gives an insight into the knowledge she's gained from over 25 years of study and work in the finance industry. And it's aimed at divorcees in particular. Britain has the highest divorce rate in the European Union with 42 per cent of marriages ending bottom up. 'Many women going through divorce don't know how to cope with their finances. This book will help them,' she says.

So what's in it? It's full of good advice that's useful to any woman from their 20s to 40s. Too late for me then! But I did pick up some good tips nevertheless. She begins by looking at our competing priorities at different decades of our lives. And she understands well that at the end of the month we don't have enough money left to save anything. First, we have to do something to improve our financial situation.

How will your spending from your 20s to 40s impact on your future lifestyle? What will you have to live on when you're older and retire? Early planning is key. And if you don't take this action, don't carry on spending wilfully and think things will all work out fine in the end.

On the practical level, Mary explains how to calculate our net worth - what we own minus what we owe. Then we can see clearly what improvements we make as time goes on. So this is about goal-setting.

How much do you pay back to get rid of any debts you have from credit cards, mortgages, loans and overdrafts? Paying back means in total over the life of the debt, not how much you pay each month. The more you pay, the sooner your debts will be done with and the less interest you will be charged. You might get a shock about this.

Saving, however little you can afford, can mount up. 'Keep on keeping on and you'll see a difference,' says Mary. Ever tried working out how much you spend each month? Mary advises on money in and money out - your cash flow. Small changes in spending or income can make a difference eventually. 'Don't worry - I'm not going to suggest you increase your working hours. This is all about working smarter, not harder.' Information about pensions and ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts) is also included and how they can help improve your finances.

But remember, all this is a long-term plan. It isn't going to make you rich overnight. And it isn't all caviar and champagne! Things can go wrong, so Mary takes this into account and shows how you can deal with it.

'The subject of money raises a huge number of different emotions,' says Mary. 'Many women love and enjoy it, while others fear it. It's not money itself that's important, it's what you do with it that counts. It's easy to be wealthy just as it's easy to be poor. There's very little difference in the way you can become either. You're in a position where you can improve your wealth. Whatever your dreams and aspirations around money, there is nothing to stop you moving towards those dreams.'

Mary's book costs £12.99. It's published by Wealth for Women Publishing and available from http://amzn.to/1jh21Bn

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Literacy and libraries for children

Hope for children's reading and libraries


The UK government chose World Book Day on 5 March 2015 to fund a new programme to the tune of £100,000 that will go some way to raising literacy in primary schools.

I think most people are becoming aware that the standard of literacy in secondary schools (and not just from the children) has deteriorated and that school leavers applying for jobs leave a great deal to be desired in the literacy stakes. This can, of course, prevent them from being accepted by companies and organisations whose window to their publics reflects on their reputation and public image. We've all spotted those spelling and punctuation mistakes in adverts and whoever employs the subtitlers on TV should most certainly have gone to Specsavers before doing so.

Literacy skills need to be learned at primary level though and if children haven't learned the difference between 'should have' and 'should of' by then, it's probably too late by the time they reach secondary school.

School Reform Minister, Nick Gibb expressed the need for 'exposure of pupils to great literature and to instil the habit of regular reading.' And by that I assume he isn't talking about surfing the internet. Mooted are book clubs and promoting library membership in primary schools. Poetry recitation is to be introduced at an early age. But tough for Bookstart Northern Ireland whose funding will be completely cut. Brooktrust, who runs that scheme in conjunction with Bookstart, are looking for alternative funding so that they can continue.

The Society of Authors welcomes the Government's proposed measures but is concerned about the state of local libraries, so many of which have suffered cutbacks and closures. Libraries are obviously going to be the main access to literature for youngsters, so encouraging them to arrange library membership isn't going to be as easy as it sounds.

The Society believes all schools should have their own libraries and are lobbying 'to make them statutory in all state-funded schools, with sufficient books available for all children and a nominated library specialist among staff.'

Chief Executive Nicola Solomon commented, 'We welcome the government's aims to increase access to reading materials and hope they will both deliver and go further. Requiring that every school has a well-maintained, curated library service would ensure that every child in Britain, wherever they live and whatever their background, has access to a full range of reading materials, in both digital and physical forms.'

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Nina Milton on crime writing

'The Shaman Mysteries': a trilogy in the making

Crime writing is consistently one of the most popular genres in the best-seller lists. On 30 June the Crime Writers Association will be celebrating their annual Dagger Awards in London to honour their choice of the best crime writers.

I've never written a crime story myself but I've edited and appraised lots of them. In fact, I'd just  finished editing a novel for a well-known crime writer when I was verbally and physically assaulted by an angry woman in a vegetarian cafĂ© where I live in Didsbury, Manchester and I'm now trying to sleuth out her identity. Author, blogger and tutor, Nina Milton was a fellow creative writing tutor for the Open College of the Arts when I worked for them and she's an experienced crime writer, so I decided to find out how her mind works when she's creating her crime novels, as I now have my personal, terrifying experience as the seed of an idea for a plot.

Nina Milton's 'Shaman Mysteries'

Here, she tells us about her latest novels, why she loves crime writing and where writers find their inspiration.

Nina is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. As a writer herself, she encourages other writers and would-be writers in her blog Kitchen Table Writers and teaches and assesses creative writing at degree standard for the Open College of the Arts.

Nina signs one of her books at Foyles


Where did it all begin?

When I was five, my infant school teacher, Mrs Marsden read a story to the class. It might have been the fable 'The Mouse and the Lion' but I can't really remember. Then she asked the class to write a story. It was a lightning bolt for my five-year-old self; the books I loved were actually written by real human beings. Before that, I believed they must have fallen from some sort of story heaven. It was a revelation - from then on I was scribbling down stories all the time and by the time I was an adult, I was writing short stories for magazines and children's books. But now, I am concentrating on crime thrillers.

I do love writing crime. I love the mystery aspect, trying to puzzle the reader while keeping them on the edge of their seat. I stay awake at night, trying to sort out all the permutations of each novel. I'm not sure I value that as much as the actual writing, though...the creating of strong characters, for instance, or the creation of a lyrical 'voice' for the narrative but perhaps I should.

A revelation has been writing a series; in my 'Shaman Mystery' series, the characters have become entirely real to me. I've had such fun writing my shaman 'sleuth', Sabbie Dare. She's like a younger sister to me now.

'In The Moors'

'In the Moors' was the first of the 'Shaman Mysteries' published by Midnight Ink last year and available as a paperback, ebook and on Kindle in both the UK and the US.
The idea for my 'Shaman Mysteries' and 'In the Moors' in particular, came to me when Sabbie Dare swam right into my head and spoke directly to me - sort of - 'hi, Nina, I'm Sabbie. I'm 28 and I'm a Shaman, which means I walk in the spirit world to help my Shamanic clients. I love my job but sometimes very strange people come into my therapy room...'
Sabbie gains the strength to get through life with her pagan beliefs but still struggles over the memories of her difficult childhood, which left her as a very angry, young teenager. But she has an open heart and is adept at inviting trouble into her life.

'Unraveled Visions'

'Unraveled Visions'

'Unraveled Visions' continues to follow Sabbie's adventures as she runs a therapeutic Shamanic business in Bridgwater. She's still seeing Rey Buckley, the maverick cop she sparked with in book one. And she's still as cockeyed and gutsy as she was in the first book, even though, yet again, her investigations hurtle her towards a dark and menacing place.
In 'Unraveled Visions', a gypsy is looking for her missing sister and a neighbour is terrified of her husband. As always she has a hard time keeping away from danger. As she says in 'In the Moors', 'I'm the sort of person who has to poke their finger into all the holes marked "Do Not Insert".

Walking in your Imagination

Like most writers, I'm fascinated by the way ideas, characters and entire scenes drop into a writing place in our heads, which becomes increasingly real to us. Characters seem to appear from nowhere or from a muse, as the ancients would have it. They have conversations in houses that don't exist or stand gazing out from headlands, the salt spray on their lips, while the writer is actually under the shower.

I call it 'walking in your imagination', because you can travel to any place or time or the mind of any character you choose. In this slower state of thinking, you naturally enter the relaxed, twilight world where vivid imagery flashes into the mind's eye and we become receptive to information. To create this sort of trance state, hypnotists use a swaying crystal, therapists use a soothing voice and Shamans use the beat of a drum - Sabbie Dare uses a drum to enter her otherworld.

Walking helps

Writers, on the other hand, mostly use their legs. As far apart chronologically as Dickens and Drabble, writers are known to swear by the afternoon walk, disappearing after lunch to walk in the woods, allowing the beat of their stride and the beauty of the surroundings to let their minds drop into the world of story.

In my experience, it doesn't much matter where you walk (although scenery can be inspirational in the most surprising ways), but it's important to walk alone. I have beautiful Ceredigion countryside to walk through and I use that a lot when I'm creating new stories. Once the characters are talking to me, I start serious plotting, making charts and lists and timelines and investigating possibilities. I also spend time plotting carefully. I don't dry up nowadays half as often as I used to.

'The Shaman Mystery' series will continue to have a dark, atmospheric edge. The third book in the series is due out at the end of 2015 and its title and cover will be revealed very soon. Sabbie has a mysterious past herself, which she's only just beginning to unravel, a theme that links the trilogy.

How to find out more

Nina's blog, Kitchen Table Writers can be viewed at http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com
Her page on Amazon:


Thursday, 12 February 2015

Call for drama scripts

Bafta Rocliffe New Writing Forum

What seems like many moons ago now, I submitted one of my scripts to what was the Rocliffe Forum, a group of scriptwriting professionals who chose three of the best received and showcased them above a pub at the Angel, Islington in London.

I was lucky to be chosen as one of the three and the advice from the room and the joy of hearing the lines in the hands of professionals and receiving their feedback was so invaluable, that the play was eventually improved and recorded. Although 'A Bench in the Park' languished for a year being mislaid and re-mislaid at the BBC, before reaching the top of the pecking order, where it received a swifter rejection than its original trajectory had been, it was never returned. Hosiprog Productions and the Essex Players picked it up and recorded it for hospital radios in the UK and the USA.


Since then, Rocliffe has become the Bafta Rocliffe New Writing Forum and the team have discovered several promising new playwrights. The first of their searches for TV drama scripts this year has already opened but if you're thinking of submitting a script, you need to get it in before the final date - 28 February.

You need to send a ten page extract of either a TV screenplay or an episode from an original series on any subject or genre and it must reflect the diversity in society. You can see a list of deadlines for future submissions on the website.

Many of last year's winners have been signed by agents and have had major broadcast commissions and dramatisations for radio accepted. Winner of one of the Writing for Children calls with his script 'The Things', John Hickman posts on their site on his writing journey and how he got to where he is.

'Rocliffe Notes'

The Forum's scriptwriter's guide, 'Rocliffe Notes',  has been on the Amazon Best Seller List for the last two months. Richard Eyre says it's 'a really useful guide to getting on', while Jim Sheridan called it 'brilliant'.

Scriptwriting feedback

If your script isn't ready for submission yet, Rocliffe runs a script report service where you can receive professional advice and feedback.

You can find out more at www.rocliffe.com or Facebook: BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Mslexia competitions for women writers


Here's some news for women writers looking for a chance to air their work. Women's writers' magazine, Mslexia has thrown down the gauntlet with a short story competition and lots of other opportunities for you to get into print.

Entrants have until 16 March to get their short story entries in for the Women's Short Story Competition 2015. You're allowed a maximum of 2,200 words on any theme and if you win, you'll scoop £2,000. Your story will be judged by novelist, short story writer and essayist, Alison MacLeod.
The winner will also receive a week's writing retreat at Ty Newydd Writers' Centre and a day with a Virago editor. Prizes for 2nd and 3rd winning entries are £500 and £250 respectively with three other finalists winning £100 each. All the winning entries will be published in the June 2015 issue of the magazine. Enter online at www.mslexia.co.uk/shortstory

Mslexia likes to encourage new writers, so also included are 11 regular open submission slots.

Monologue is for scriptwriters - submit 200 words on any topic in a single character's voice. The editor is currently on the lookout for monologues in the voice of a 'zombie'. I'm sure you've all met lots of those. The deadline for that is 13 April.

Poets can send their take on Four Lines that Rhyme; fans of social media can submit A Week of Tweets about their writing and/or life or apply for a three-month residency on the Mslexia Blog.

If you're good at writing descriptions, Pen Portrait invites you to convey a character in second or third person in no more than 200 words. The deadline is 13 April and the theme is a pen portrait of a 'headmistress'. I remember mine from my junior school in Prestwich, Manchester bringing down her cane with a swish onto my extremely tiny and sensitive pianist's hand. Hard to believe nowadays but that might be a good entry. I must away and get to work...

For contributors' guidelines, payment details and regular updates, visit www.mslexia.co.uk/submit, email postbag@mslexia.co.uk or phone 0191 204 8860. Good luck!