My Lovely Blog Hop

I’ve been tagged by the super-lovely Kelly Florentia to take part in My Lovely Blog Hop. So here are a few thoughts about my past, present, my writing, and why, responding to one point here, I almost fibbed but decided to tell the truth in the end.

First Memory

Me and my sister, Helen, with our father, aged about 5 and 3.

Me and my sister, Helen, with our father, aged about 5 and 3.

Riding on the back of a bicycle behind my father, his presence large and dark and safe. It was one of those seats fixed to the mudguard that are no doubt outlawed now. I have no idea how old I was, but at least three or four, I’d say. He died when I was six and I have so few memories of him that I treasure this one. It’s faint, visceral rather than concrete. Sometimes, I stare at photographs of my mother’s and try to conjure memories, but truthfully I cannot recall the actual moments of any of them. He’s rather more like a shadow, a friendly ghost, in childhood memories and I know my sister feels this too.

Books

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Favourite books of 2014 (some of them!)

Though I didn’t always want to be a writer – I definitely didn’t enjoy it at a school and was in the lower half of the class, attainment wise, in English – stories have been a consistent presence in my life, personally and professionally. As a child I was a voracious reader, and remain so today. I didn’t own many books – see the section on libraries – other than those given as Christmas or birthday presents from distant aunts and uncles, but I devoured anything I could lay my hands on: classics like the Narnia Chronicles, Tom’s Midnight Garden, and The Secret Garden as well as popular titles like Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St Clare’s series. The allure of boarding school to a state school kid was irresistible. Nowadays, I read more contemporary fiction than anything else – I had my fill of the classics after three years studying for a degree in English Literature. Authors I admire and enjoy are too numerous to list here but those who consistently awe include Maggie O’Farrell, Jojo Moyes, Jenn Ashworth, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro and Margaret Atwood.

Libraries

Gladstone's Library in north Wales

Gladstone’s Library in north Wales

Predictably, I love them. As a child and young woman I was a regular borrower. Like so many of us, I don’t borrow anywhere near as often as I used to but I do visit the fabulous Jubilee Library in Brighton, my home town. The first writers’ group I joined met at the Jubilee and it hosts fundraising events like that for the super-fantastic Little Green Pig project as well as author events. It’s a joy to hang out in. Another favourite library is the Gladstone in north Wales, just down the road from where I grew up. It is breathtakingly beautiful and it hosts an excellent literary festival in September with a host of inspiring author talks and workshops – including yours truly at last year’s shindig! The Gladstone offers writers’ retreats and I have been fortunate enough to secure a scholarship there this summer. Other authors have sung its praises as the ideal place to be inspired and write and I can see why. Roll on August.

What’s your passion?

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A Patrick Heron print – one of my fave artists

Tempted as I am to sound much more interesting and exciting than I actually am and make something up, I’m going to be truthful and admit that other than reading and writing and my family, I don’t really have one. I do love clothes and fashion and seeking out fabulous bargains, and have been known to post some of my more unusual finds on Facebook (a German 60s shift dress, anyone?). Also, I love art, enjoy watching films and drinking wine and eating cake – eating out, full stop, but I’m not sure that these count as passions. Writing and books is it. Sad but true, perhaps?

Learning

I believe that learning is for life not just for school days and the moment we stop learning we stop living. Enough said.

Writing

Given that I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time blathering about my writing work I’ll say little more than the sentences below. Feel free to rummage around the rest of my site if you need or want more *hear me laughing*

My next two novels are to be published by Accent Press. The first, Redemption Song, in January 2016, followed by Skin Deep later that year. There’s more info on them here.

Wait!

Many thanks to Kelly for nominating me. It’s been fun ambling down memory lane, picking the daisies. Now, I’m breaking into a sprint (not!) to hand over the baton to author mate Annette Sills. Annette’s debut, The Relative Harmony of Julie O’Hagan, is set in Manchester – where I studied – and is a lively, often moving, read, and she’s a super-nice person too.

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Best Books of 2014, according to me

It’s that time of year when I give a brief round-up of books I’ve read in the past twelve months, those that I have enjoyed or have affected me in some way.

Leaving aside the many manuscripts I’ve read in my role as editor/mentor – and there have been two this year which I believe thoroughly deserve to be published, whether they will be or not remains to be seen; the publishing world moves in mysterious ways – I’ve read around 40 books of fiction in 2014. This is my average. Ironically, I read more before I started writing, but with a family and another part-time job something has to give if stories are to be written.

Of the 40, around half were, broadly speaking, contemporary women’s fiction, with the remainder spread across most other genres aside from fantasy, sci-fi and historical sagas. So, in no particular order my favourites were:

Jenn Ashworth’s The Friday Gospels

books 001In this, Ashworth’s third novel we follow four members of a Lancashire Mormon family across one day as they await the homecoming of a prodigal son. He has been spreading the gospel in Utah. As ever, Ashworth climbs into the skin of her diverse characters with consummate ease. Funny and poignant.

Sarah Rayner’s Another Night, Another Day

A brilliant novel about three characters who meet in a psychiatric clinic. Sound depressing? It’s not; it’s a joy from start to finish. No one does bittersweet quite like Rayner. No wonder she’s a best seller.

Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard

Dark, disturbing and with one of the most shocking and surprising twists I’ve come across. I’ve been a fan of Doughty for years, but this is her best yet.

Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall

books 002An incredible debut with one of the most memorable voices in recent years, The Shock of the Fall is Matthew’s story, a young man battling mental ill health and memories of his dead brother, Simon. Has one of my all-time-favourite lines.

David Nicholl’s Us

A tender exploration of a 25 year relationship; an odyssey of love. I cried, and I cried with laughter. Believe the hype.

My to-be-read pile is already mahoosive, but I am especially looking forward to Betsy Tobin’s Things We Can’t Explain, Carys Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley, Rowan Coleman’s The Memory Book, Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing and Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

It feels as if 2014 was a great year for wonderful fiction, but then so many years are, it seems to me, and I am awed by the spectacular talent out there. When asked for a piece of advice by wannabe writers I always say: Read. Read, read, read. Be inspired by the good work; read it again; analyse why it’s great and learn from it. Also, learn from the not-so-good work. Where and why does it fall down? Make sure you don’t make the same mistakes.

Merry Christmas to you all and don’t forget: Books make great gifts!

North Wales’ Best Kept Literary Secret?

Edinburgh-Aug 2014 115Of late, I’ve been a bad blogger, irregular and erratic with my posts. However, I’ve had some splendid guests and I hope you’ve enjoyed their wisdom. This month I’m busy with literary festivals and here I’m going to talk about a new(ish) festival in Wales in a library that more should know about.

First off, why such a slack blogger? Summer is the trickiest season for me, when the Gingers are off school. Mornings are work time and afternoons are fun time, but this puts a time squeeze on work-related activity – I even have to curb my social media addiction. Gasp, horror. I’ve been scribbling away on my latest novel – a story of love, faith, forgiveness, and bats set in a Welsh seaside town – and I’ve also done a fair whack of editing jobs – three in total. One was for Sarah Rayner. Sarah has written and published a fantastic e-book, Making Friends with Anxiety, and it is perfect for any of you who are prone to an over-whelming sense of panic, or a mild sense, to be honest. It’s beautifully written – like chatting with a mate – and is full of brilliant tips and advice. And this summer I had to prepare a workshop for a literary festival, GladFest.

Edinburgh-Aug 2014 106I travelled up to my home stomping ground – North Wales – at the weekend, with the boys in tow to take part in the festival.  2014 is only the second year GladFest has been running at the stupendously gorgeous Gladstone Library, but, boy, you’d never know it. What a brilliant festival. A dazzling array of well-respected authors at the top of the game (and me). Authors like Salley Vickers and Stephen May – his debut TAG is one of my all-time favourite books. He was there to talk about his latest, the fantastic Wake Up Happy Every Day. There was a menu of workshops to attend and the festival was very well-attended. This was also down to the wonderful organisation and publicity, and the hard work put in by all the staff at the library. Everyone was made to feel so welcome. Gladstone’s is a unique place; a residential library that connects a wide range of writers and thinkers, runs courses and events and is a haven for creative thinking and reflection.

My workshop, Spit & Polish, was all about the vital art of self-editing your MS. It was a sell-out and if I say I was taken aback by this you should imagine me lying on the floor of the library fanning myself. I was nervous but the reception was great and the feedback better than I could ever have hoped for.

Gorgeous festival bag & programme

Gorgeous festival bag & programme

Festivals are great for authors and readers alike. They connect one to the other and though a disadvantage of working at a festival is that you don’t get a chance to see and do as much as you’d like, there are many, many advantages. You meet readers and potential readers, you meet new authors and others known to you, the exchange of ideas and creative energy at a festival like GladFest is nigh on priceless. So, if you’re reader or writer and you live in the North West do find out about the range of events held at the library. Scratch that. Wherever you live check out the Gladstone Library. I’m taking some time out and working up there for a couple of weeks next year, and I cannot wait.

Next stop on the festival tour is Richmond Boots and Books. I’m talking at the library on 22nd, 7pm, about Public Battles, Private Wars. What’s not to like about a festival with a name like that!

 

I’m finishing with another photo of the library and the great man himself, simply because I can!Edinburgh-Aug 2014 116