2016: Brilliant books, according to me

In common with many people, 2016 has been a tricky and often difficult year for me but the pleasure and stimulation (intellectual, emotional and creative) I receive from reading has remained constant. Thank goodness for books. Beautiful books.

Since I began this blog in 2010 it has become customary to share my favourite reads as the year draws to its close. They are not necessarily works first published in the year; they are not necessarily prize winners (though sometimes they are) and they come from a wide range of genres. I’m an eclectic reader and it’s a very personal list. The following impressed me enormously. In no particular order:

Fiction

Bashed up proof copy. BigFella read & also loved. And dropped it in the bath.This Must Be The Place, Maggie O’Farrell

A huge canvas; an intimate and expansive examination of a marriage.  Quite simply genius.

 

Animals, Emma Jane Unsworthimg_2608

A tale of two not-quite-ready-to-be-grown-up 30somethings, this book made me laugh and cry in recognition. Unsworth writes with enormous wit and compassion, and an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of female friendship. Brilliant.

img_2614The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett

With its satisfyingly complex structure this novel explores three possible outcomes of the lives of two Cambridge undergraduates who meet – or not – in the 1950s. Spanning 50 years, it is involving, rich and clever.

 

We Go Around in the Night and Are Consumed by Fire, Jules Grantimg_2609

One of the reasons I love this novel is because it vividly portrays a world I hitherto knew little about: the female criminal gangs of contemporary Manchester. The voices of gang leader, Donna, and her lover’s daughter Ror, are raw and, surprisingly, poetic. Stunning.

img_2615Summertime, Vanessa Lafaye

A historical love story centred around a true event, a hurricane, in 1930s Florida. The veterans’ tale is a shocking and shameful blemish on American history, brought vividly and compassionately to life. Thrilling and sad.

 

Stargazing, Kate Glanvilleimg_2616

A warm and touching family drama exploring serious issues like family breakup, domestic abuse and falling for the right person. Moving.

img_2612Sandlands, Rosy Thorton

A collection of sixteen diverse tales set in and around one coastal village in Suffolk.  Poignant, unsettling and often extremely funny. Magical.

 

 

Wake, Anna Hopeimg_2613

There are many books covering the Great War but few are as powerful and memorable as this one. Pegged to the search for the Unknown Soldier Wake covers three women’s stories.  Unforgettable.

51d7b-eedl-_sx318_bo1204203200_Where Love Lies, Julie Cohen

This has all the fabulous Cohen trademarks: warmth, insight, tenderness, and it really stands out. It was shamefully overlooked on its release in my humble opinion. I suspect this is because the hook is impossible to talk about without spoilers. Suffice to say: read it. It’s wonderful. Poignant and tender.

 

Non-fiction

The Outrun, Amy Liptrotimg_2606

A searing, honest, unsentimental account of one woman’s recovery from alcoholism and the transformative power of nature and home. I want to visit remote Scottish islands (despite the brutal weather) after reading this book. Outstanding.

img_2611Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit

Solnit’s history of activism and social change over the past 50 years (first published in 2005 – revised and updated in 2016) is as important now as it ever was. A case for hope, arguably we need it now more than ever.

 

There we have it. Now it only remains for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Let’s hope 2017 is a good one.

Laura x

Revenge: A dish best eaten cold? Guest Post by JA Corrigan

Final cover high resPlease welcome debut author JA Corrigan to the blog. JA’s novel, Falling Suns, is published on 14th July by award-winning press, Accent, and it is a cracking read. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here, she talks about revenge and its links to tragedy tradition. Thank you, JA.

The Revenge Plot is one of the oldest in history and sits easily alongside The Tragedy Plot. In fact, as the most famous of revenge plots shows us – Shakespeare’s Hamlet of course – revenge and tragedy are inextricably linked.

I pondered on this for some time.

Are they linked because essentially revenge is an unethical act and so therefore the result of retribution will always be tragic or, is the desire for revenge a natural human instinct that through religious and spiritual teachings has been demonised? The ultimate act of revenge is murder; a sin within all the major religions of the world, and in all civilised societies, a crime.

The thirst for revenge is one of the oldest human compulsions, and so using it as a theme in a novel, play or poem, stands up there as a premise that will always be interesting, throw up questions and cause angst – for both the writer and the reader. Revenge is often the precursor to a tragedy, just as much as the love story. The outcome of the act of retribution, I decided, could never be a good one.

And yet, the need and desire to ‘put right’ a wrongdoing, a brutal act, is so strong, and so much built into the human psyche that it is a storyline that for me, was hard to resist.

There can be no revenge without its ramification – that of tragedy.

Alongside the theme of revenge sat the idea of the strongest of human emotions – that of maternal love – and this too emerged as part of the premise for my story. Rachel adores her son and yet … in the opening of the novel we sense that this is not enough for her, that she wants and needs to return to her job, and with this realisation the seed is sown that Joe’s disappearance is somehow her fault.

In the early stages of planning my story, and with the theme of uncompromising maternal love imprinted inside my mind, I began to have the thought of how I could turn the trope of maternal love upside down and push it inside out. How an emotion that is considered good and nurturing can become bad and parasitic.

I knew I had to explore both.

When I first began to outline the plot for Falling Suns I did wrestle with myself. Could I possibly have a protagonist, and maintain my readers’ sympathy for her, when she is planning revenge and cold-blooded murder?

In the comfort of our own home, sitting on the sofa, many of us have said: ‘If he/she did that to one of mine I’d kill them.’ Fortunately this scenario is rare; i.e. that the person saying the sentence will actually be placed within the tragic circumstances to carry out such a threat. But what if you are placed in that position? What if your child was brutally murdered by a person that in time you were able to confront … and take revenge by taking the murderer’s life? What if you possessed all the tools, the emotional and mental strength to do what others could only imagine? What if?

This is the premise for Falling Suns: that Rachel Dune, the distraught and grieving mother, plans her revenge on the man who has been placed in a psychiatric unit for the brutal murder of her son. But as the story unfolds and as Rachel begins to unearth from the depths of her consciousness her own past, she begins to question that perhaps revenge is not what will appease her grief. As with many revenge plots there are other variables at play for Rachel, and it is not until she is able to explore these other factors that she slowly recognises the flaws in her plan, and the defects within her own family.

Revenge for Rachel is a need; a need that could destroy her, a need that can only end in tragedy – but not the tragedy that she herself foresees.

It is the tragedy of her past and all that lives there.

Blurb:

faalling suns preA psychological thriller for fans of Belinda Bauer, Mark Edwards, Clare Mackintosh – a dark and brooding tale about the horrors that can lurk within a family.

Ex-DI Rachel Dune’s small son is missing. Then his body is discovered. Her cousin Michael is found guilty of his murder and incarcerated in a secure psychiatric unit.

Four years later, now divorced and back in the police force, Rachel discovers that Michael is being released to a less secure step-down unit, with his freedom a likely eventuality. Unable to cope with this, she decides upon revenge, assuming a new identity to hunt him down. However, as she closes in on her target, her friend Jonathan, a journalist, uncovers unnerving information about her mother and others in her family. Jonathan begins to suspect that Rachel’s perception of the truth might not be as accurate as she thinks.

About JA Corrigan

DSC_1184JA Corrigan is originally from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, but now lives in Berkshire and shares her life with a husband, a teenage daughter and a cute cockapoo.

When not writing she is either walking the dog, reading, or cooking. She also likes to run, and drink white wine infused with hints of vanilla or gooseberries.

Falling Suns is a great, tense read. You can check out my review here.

To buy Falling Suns:

https://www.waterstones.com/book/falling-suns/julie-ann-corrigan/j-a-corrigan/9781786152497

https://bookshop.theguardian.com/catalog/product/view/id/414323/

http://amzn.to/1YbkLHg (PB)

http://amzn.to/1OekOQZ (Kindle)

http://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/falling-suns/9781786152497

Guest post: Unsticking Words with Another Glass of Champagne by Jenny Kane

I’m delighted to be here today to chat about my latest contemporary novel, Another Glass of Champagne. And I’m more than delighted to have you here, Jenny!

AGOCFollowing on from the bestselling novel, Another Cup of Coffee, and the seasonal Christmas novella’s Another Cup of Christmas, Christmas in the Cotswolds, and Christmas at the Castle; Another Glass of Champagne is the final instalment in the Pickwicks Coffee House adventures.

Revolving around the coffee obsessed lives of Amy, Kit, Jack, and their friends, Another Glass of Champagne finds each of the Pickwicks friends facing exciting changes in their lives. Yet, unexpected challenges will need to be overcome if those celebratory glasses of champagne are ever going to be raised…

Blurb

A warm-hearted, contemporary tale about a group of friends living in a small corner of busy London, by bestselling author Jenny Kane.

Fortysomething Amy is shocked and delighted to discover she s expecting a baby not to mention terrified! Amy wants best friend Jack to be godfather, but he hasn’t been heard from in months. When Jack finally reappears, he s full of good intentions but his new business plan could spell disaster for the beloved Pickwicks Coffee Shop, and ruin a number of old friendships…

Meanwhile his love life is as complicated as ever and yet when he swears off men for good, Jack meets someone who makes him rethink his priorities…but is it too late for a fresh start?

 Author Kit has problems of her own: just when her career has started to take off, she finds herself unable to write and there s a deadline looming, plus two headstrong kids to see through their difficult teenage years…will she be able to cope?

A follow-up to the runaway success Another Cup of Coffee.

***

One of the main characters in the Another Cup of… series is a writer called Kit Lambert. When we first met Kit in Another Cup of Coffee, she was making a name for herself by writing erotica. As her career progressed Kit moved into contemporary fiction, and now she has a novel publishing contract, with all the pressures of having to produce work to tight deadlines upon her.

Mum of twins, and wife to bookshop owner Phil, Kit suddenly finds herself unable to write at all, but he can’t understand why. Surely writer’s block is something that can be easily shaken off- or is just a myth invented by those who can’t be bothered to write today…or is it?

Not even sitting at her usual table in the corner of Pickwicks Coffee House, (run by her friend Peggy) is helping the words become unstuck…

Extract

When she got back, Kit found Peggy looking thoughtful, ‘Why have you closed your work down, honey? I usually steal a read of your latest work in progress when I think you’re not looking.’ ‘I haven’t got much done today.’

Kit mumbled. ‘It’s been a mulling things over sort of a day.’ Changing the subject, she said, ‘Scott says there are some sandwiches ready for your lunch when Megan comes back through.’

‘Good, I’m starving.’

‘Are you and Megan managing alright with only two of you on the serving team? It’s already busy, but by July it’s going to be packed between eleven and two.’

‘Actually, Scott and I were talking about that over the weekend. Would your Helena fancy giving us a hand and earning some money before she heads off to university? Where is she going again?’ Flinching slightly, and hoping Peggy hadn’t noticed, Kit said, ‘She’s aiming for Bath to do Chemistry, and Thomas’s hoping to be off to Exeter. Assuming they get their grades, that is.’

‘Of course they will. What’s Thomas going to study?’

‘History.’

‘Sounds good. So, do you think Helena will want the job? It would save me a lot of bother with adverts and stuff.’

Kit nodded. She knew exactly how much time it took to go through interviews and training staff in this place, so someone who was already familiar with Pickwicks layout would be a real advantage to Peggy. ‘I’ll ask her. Helena’s bank balance could certainly do with a top-up. Goodness knows it’s time she stood on her own two feet financially.’

Megan came back into the café and Peggy got up to go and have her lunch before another influx of customers forced her to forego her only real break of the day. As an afterthought, she turned back to Kit. ‘If you’d rather your daughter wasn’t here during the day, just say. I mean, this is your office after all!’

‘I don’t mind at all. I’ll ask her this evening, assuming she comes home She seems to live at her mates’ houses these days.’

‘Making the most of seeing her friends before she heads west, I suppose.’

Peggy waved as she disappeared into the kitchen, to what Kit hoped wasn’t a tuna sandwich, before she could see the tell-tale glint of tears fighting to form at the corner of her eyes. Cross with herself for being so emotional, Kit looked at her screen. Peggy had opened a new document and typed the words You can talk to me, you know. Love Peggy xx across the top of the page.

Kit should have known that she couldn’t hide anything from Peggy. The manageress knew her habits better than anyone, having been host to them for the past decade or so. Kit didn’t even want to guess how many cups of coffee, scones, and slices of toast she’d consumed at that table in that time. Just the thought of the amount of butter she’d spread over her early morning snacks was enough to make her feel as though her hips were expanding right there on the seat.

Making her mind up to talk to Peggy soon, she picked up her mobile and sent Helena a text, telling her about the possible employment opportunity at Pickwicks. Kit wasn’t sure if she did actually want Helena around all day while she was writing. But then, she thought, I’m not exactly writing now, am I…

***

You may be thinking that Kit sounds like a real writer you’ve come across- and you’d be right. Kit and I are pretty much the same person- but with huge exaggerations into fiction of course!! For a start, I do not have twins!

However, a little while ago I did suffer a bout of writer’s block. I had been a little flippant about the condition until then- but now I know it is truly horrid. Feeling all the words backing up in your head and not being able to get them out is just awful- especially when you live for your words! I lost weeks to the confusion of not being able to compose even the simplest sentences.

If you want to discover if Kit manages to get to the root of her own word block, and see what else the Pickwick’s crew are up to, then you can buy Another Glass of Champagne from all good bookshops and eBook retailers, including-

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Another+Glass+of+Champagne+Jenny+Kane

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/188-7813436-7626710?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Another+Glass+of+Champagne+Jenny+Kane

Many thanks for letting me visit today,

Happy reading,

Jenny x

Good luck with the book, Jenny; I’m so looking forward to the read.

Bio

Jenny Kane at Costa Coffee talking about her new book.

Jenny Kane at Costa Coffee talking about her new book.

Jenny spends a large part of her time in the cafe’s of Mid Devon, where she creates her stories, including the novels Another Glass of Champagne, (Accent Press, 2016), Abi’s House (Accent Press, June 2015), Romancing Robin Hood (Accent Press, 2014), the best selling contemporary romance Another Cup of Coffee (Accent Press, 2013), and the novella length sequels Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013), Christmas in the Cotswolds, (Accent Press, 2014), and Christmas at the Castle, (Accent Press, 2015).

Her next full length novel, Abi’s Neighbour, will be published by Accent Press in Summer 2017. She is also working on a short historical novel, which will be published in November 2016.

Jenny Kane is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014) and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Hushpuppy, 2015).

Keep your eye on Jenny’s blog at www.jennykane.co.uk for more details.

Twitter- @JennyKaneAuthor

Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/JennyKaneRomance?ref=hl

jenny kane blog tour (1)

Being A Contender by Georgina Troy – RoNA Awards 2016

AJB jpegGeorgina Troy is another author in the Accent Press stable and she was recently honoured with a shortlisting in a prestigious award. She’s been kind enough to pop over and share her story with us. Over to you, Georgina.

I’m one of those people who has delayed reactions. When something good happens to me it takes time for it to dawn on me that it really is happening. When something bad happens, I also take time to react. I’m an optimist at heart but I think that, especially with my writing, when someone is complimentary, or I’m told that my book is being: a) published – I think they must be confusing me with someone else; b) Nominated for the Joan Hessayon Award – that they make all the authors who’ve been signed to a publishing contract finalists that year; c) Contender for the Romantic Novel of the Year Category in the Romance Novel of the Year Awards 2016 – that… well, maybe my book might be okay.

It was a surreal time, discovering that A Jersey Kiss had been nominated when I read the initial congratulatory email in (I believe) December from the Romantic Novelists’ Association and then being congratulated by my publisher and having to keep the news secret until the news embargo was lifted in February. Then there were further emails asking me to complete press release forms, sending author jpegs, being interviewed by the local paper and on BBC Radio Jersey where met another contender who lived in Jersey, Sophie Cousens (Romantic Comedy). It was all go!

Then it was a case of finding something to wear, booking flights and getting tickets for my mum, husband and daughter who were to accompany me, and generally getting very excited. Planes, trains and lots of walking later, I arrived at The Gladstone Library, in Whitehall for the contenders’ photo shoot while my family members went for something to eat before joining me for the award ceremony. I hate having my photo taken, but had fun nonetheless, and tried to smile although I was a little in awe of the entire proceedings. To be nominated in the same category and taking part in a photoshoot with people like Veronica Henry… I mean, Veronica Henry! She’s one of those authors whose books I buy each year when they come out and I know I’m going to enjoy them.

Needless to say it was a fabulous evening meeting up with other RNA members/friends and enjoying the glitzy party. It was enough being nominated, truly.

To celebrate something like this with my mum, daughter and husband was extra special and we all sat at the Accent Press table with my esteemed publisher, Hazel Cushion, and the other two Accent Press contenders – in different categories, thankfully – Jane Jackson (Historical) and Lisa Tenzin-Dolma (YA). It was a fun, exciting and pretty awesome evening and I’m massively grateful that the judges liked A Jersey Kiss enough to choose it to be nominated in such an auspicious award.

So, for any writer out there sitting at their laptop editing, or reading their RNA New Writers’ Scheme reader’s report and feeling disheartened by all the things wrong with their manuscript – as I have many, many times – don’t give up. Dreams really do come true, writerly ones, at least. And this summer I’ve seen my fourth book for Accent Press, A Jersey Bombshell, being published – another truly exciting event.

Blurb:

Gabriel has returned to the island of Jersey after ten years abroad to help his aging showbiz parents revive their failing Art Deco hotel. This proves to be something of a challenge, especially as his singer father and actress mother are more concerned with staying in the limelight than keeping track of the cash-flow. Gabriel isn’t going anywhere fast …

Meanwhile, he’s stunned to find that the hotel’s new receptionist is the girl he fell in love with years earlier in Vietnam, and someone who is tied to Jersey is the last thing she needs …

Author Bio:

Georgina TroyGeorgina Troy lives in Jersey, an island fifteen miles off the coast of France. She’s a hopeless romantic and when Georgina realised that no one else wrote romances set in her island home with its beautiful wind-swept beaches and intriguing inhabitants, she decided she had to provide some. Her books are published by Accent Press.

Social Media Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GeorginaTroyAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/georginatroy

Blog: http://georginatroy.blogspot.com/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/georginatroy/

Buying Links:

Amazon.co.ukhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Jersey-Bombshell-Georgina-Troy-ebook/dp/B01DYDGHDS/

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Jersey-Bombshell-Georgina-Troy-ebook/dp/B01DYDGHDS/

Good luck with the book, Georgina and thanks for popping by.

 

Guest post from Kristen Bailey: Flippin’ Fish & other culinary delights

Kristen Bailey’s debut novel, Souper Mum, is published today by Accent Press and I have the great honour of welcoming her to my blog. Kristen is a kindred spirit; she’s as hopeless in the kitchen as I am! Some of you might remember my Great British Burn Off? But today’s all about Kristen. Over to you…

Can I cook?  Well, in theory, yes.  For example, if you gave me a chicken breast, I could season it, apply heat to it and you’d end up with one cooked chicken breast.  Ta-dah!  The problem is I’d probably overcook it.  It’d be charred (code for burnt) on the outside and inside the consistency of chalk but yes, definitely cooked.  Bon Appetit!

Souper mum cover_FCMy culinary prowess is a bit of a running joke in my family.  It started back at school where I had to create a dish for my Home Economics lesson.  I had the truly great idea that I’d coat bits of cod in cornflakes.  I called them Fish Flips.  I didn’t use any binding agent like egg or flour.  So it just ended up as shrunken rubbery pieces of cod in a sea of baked cornflakes.  Yum.  My brother still brings up this spectacular culinary fail fifteen years down the line.  When there is talk of Christmas, family birthdays and celebration meals, the conversation often goes as such:

Mum:  It’s my birthday!  Let’s go out for dinner!

Me:  I could cook?

Mum:  Or we could go out for dinner?

And I’m not sure why I’m so bad at cooking, I give it a good ol’ stab.  I have cookbooks about my person which I bookmark and drool over.  I watch the odd cookery show and help myself to those random recipe cards you find at the back of supermarkets.  But for some reason, those glossy pictures of burnished lamb shanks with crowns of rosemary, and lustrous fruit tarts usually get lost in translation through my cooking skills.  I’m not sure if it’s my bad maths that can never work out the timings or perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with my palate but many a time, my kids curiously drag their forks around their plates.  Children who are essentially, the worst food critics, ever. ‘I don’t like it.’  Imagine that as a restaurant review in The Times, just that.  Ouch.

The general reaction to my cooking

The general reaction to my cooking

And what is worse is that I come from a family of foodies.  My mother is the archetypal kitchen-dwelling matriarch.  When you eat at her table, it’s a veritable feast of courses and flavours and love.  My sister produces layered, well-iced cakes that are GBBO worthy. I have aunts, cousins, grandmothers who have recipes and dishes that are firm family favourites.  And then there’s me.  Mac and cheese, anyone?  I make a decent mac and cheese?  With a side of frozen peas?

So in a market saturated with cook books, foodie blogs and faddy diet advice, I wrote Souper Mum for mums like me, the non-cooking sorts.  The ones who try, who let occasional junk pepper their dining tables but who also level it out with a bit of broccoli.  Mums who have limited cooking skill, fussy little customers and who have to think about other constraints like time, fatigue and budget.  It’s like the proper Hunger Games.  Your kitchens are the battlefields; they’re not the pastel, beech work-topped utopias you see in your cookbooks.  These kitchens are covered in yesterday’s washing up, school newsletters, Lego and a remote control without any batteries.  The mums within have little to no foodie wisdom or ability; they’re literally just winging it with a bag of pasta, a tin of chopped tomatoes and half a block of cheddar cheese.267828_10150312087550731_6309393_n

My Souper Mum is Jools Campbell: she grills cupcakes, messes up scrambled eggs and has never really worked out the secret mastery involved in chopping onions.  Let’s just say I had a catalogue of excellent bad-cooking anecdotes to lend to her story.  Her journey is one of self-discovery – the same one that I think most mothers go on when they find themselves embroiled in parenthood and are trying to dig through the debris to remember what’s important in life and reclaim their sense of identity.  Her story is set against a foodie culture she decides to take a stand against with hilarious if life-altering consequences.  If your life is full of quinoa, samphire and you’re one of those full-on crazy people who feel the need to make their own puff pastry, then I warn you, you may not like what Jools has to say.  However, if tonight you’ve opened your kitchen cabinet, reached for the baked beans and are examining those last few slices of bread for mould then Souper Mum might just be your new best friend….

DSC_5363Souper Mum is the story of Jools Campbell, a stay-at-home mother of four, who becomes an unlikely foodie hero when she stands up to a pompous celebrity chef, Tommy McCoy on a reality show.  Armed with fish fingers and a severely limited cooking repertoire, we watch as she becomes a reluctant celebrity and learns some important life lessons about love, family and the joyless merits of quinoa.

To buy Souper Mum, click on this link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Souper-Mum-Kristen-Bailey/dp/1786150689/

BIO

Mother-of-four, gin-drinker, binge-watcher, receipt hoarder, hapless dog owner, enthusiastic but terrible cook.  Kristen lives in Fleet, Hampshire and has had short fiction published in several publications. The sequel to Souper Mum will be published later in the year.

She writes a weekly blog about being a modern mother.  That and more can be found at her website: http://www.kristenbaileywrites.com

You can also find her on:

Twitter @baileyforce6 and Facebook www.facebook.com/kristenbaileywrites

Sounds fantastic, Kristen. Best of luck – with the book (and tonight’s supper!). x

Becoming Real: A Writer’s Tale

SkyjackedShirley Golden is a respected short story writer and a good friend. Her work is beautiful, and I’d be saying the same if she wasn’t a mate. Last week her debut novel, Skyjacked, was published and I cannot wait to read it. Here, Shirley asks if she’s now a real writer?

Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to try and turn my childhood dream of becoming a ‘real’ writer into reality.  I embarked upon a novel, and it came out in a flourish!  I worked from 7am – 7pm, clocking 2 – 3,000 words per day and completed 130, 000 words within three months.

But once my first draft was complete, I began to doubt.  Why did I think I could write?  I didn’t even fully understand the rules of grammar.  So, I back-pedalled.  I read advice on grammar and how to write, including Stephen King’s On Writing, and Teach Yourself Creative Writing.  I joined writers’ groups, where I encountered, sometimes decent, and sometimes poor advice.  I decided to try short stories, mainly to practise the craft but also to see if I could get published.

I studied women’s magazines because they paid for short fiction.  But I quickly realised such stories weren’t for me.  They were twee and constrained – both in their subject matter and in the way the magazines dictated viewpoint and tense.  I searched for other markets online and trawled through The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, where I discovered the small presses.  And what an absolute gift they were (and are).  Among the first magazines to capture my attention were Scribble, Staple, Writers’ Forum, and Leaf Books.

I remember my excitement at submitting stories and my odd persistence when I began to receive rejections.  Odd, because I’m not a confident or pushy person and I find it a mystery as to how I kept going.  I prepared the first three chapters of my novel for agents and received more rejections.

IMG_0895But I also received feedback for a short story from the editor of Staple.  It was a rejection but he’d written a couple of encouraging lines and suggested that I submit more work.  I was so grateful for this lifeline amongst a sea of rejections.

Then it happened, a year and a half after first setting ink to page, one of the big agencies asked to see my full manuscript.  I was so excited, I thought I’d pop!  This was it.  I was going to be a ‘real’ writer.

A couple of months later, I received a reply, which was complimentary about my characters and story, but stated they didn’t think they could market it.

This news would have undoubtedly been devastating had I not received an acceptance for a short story from Scribble in the same month.  I was a published author!  Only after my initial elation, I realised that this was just the first tiny step towards achieving my goal.

I continued to write short stories as they were an invaluable place to experiment with structure and style.  I received three more acceptances that year, and the next year won first prize in a short story competition run by Writers’ Muse.  I continued to receive rejections from agents, and so began work on the next novel, and the next and the next…

Five years after my first short story was published, I won the Exeter Short Story Prize (and started to admit that I wrote).  That same year (acceptances have a definite bus-like behaviour), I won second place for the opening chapters of my fifth novel.  Nearly two years later, I signed a contract with Urbane Publications for that novel: a space fantasy called, Skyjacked.  And I am elated.  But it’s more tempered these days.  Experience has taught me that success and failure are best viewed stoically, and that self-doubt will never completely go away; even now, I fear my stories were picked because it was a poor month/quarter/year for submissions.  And I often wonder at what point, if ever, an author feels like a ‘real’ writer.

To buy Skyjacked, click on these links:

http://urbanepublications.com/books/skyjacked/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Skyjacked-Book-1-Corvus-Ranger/dp/1910692182?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc